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The Arctic Goes Bonkers

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Photo by NASA/Kathryn Hansen | CC BY 2.0

Photo by NASA/Kathryn Hansen | CC BY 2.0

Recent news out of the Arctic is alarming scientists, as for example the Union of Concerned Scientists discussed further on in this article. This extreme bad news is far-reaching, out of the ordinary, and chilling to the bone.

Global warming is getting worse and worse by the month and by the year and now, all of a sudden, frighteningly worse yet. Worldwide temperature sets monthly records, but who really cares in the public domain, other than scientists, the Pope, and the parties to COP, the Conference of the Parties, which is the gabfest for climate change. It’s where thousands of climate diplomats consume Bordeaux and caviar whilst staying in $250/$750/night hotel rooms and talk and talk and drink and eat and talk. Finally, agreeing to “voluntarily” hold average global temperature increase below 2°C vis a vis pre-industrial temps, which few people outside of their inner circle fully understand. As it happens, 2°C seems like such a small number, and after all it is voluntary! But, for complicated reasons not discussed herein, it is not a small number, truth be known, 1.5°C will cause big problems in the climate. Nevertheless, forget all of the handwringing over 2°C, or 1.5°C for that matter, because humongous problems are already here, right now!

The voluntary commitments at COP21 to reduce global CO2 emissions need to be rock solid, and hopefully, they’ll happen soon enough to stave off ecosystem collapse, which looks more threatening today than yesterday. Otherwise, there’ll be worldwide famine and brutal war amongst warring tribes fighting over tillable land, as global warming cranks up, disrupting the biosphere, scorching agricultural land, like Syria from 2007 to 2011, a drought that drove 1.5 million farmers off ancient Fertile Crescent land into the cities for work and food. Shortly thereafter, all hell broke lose.

Meanwhile, the eastern Mediterranean is drying up, guaranteeing more climate refugees. “A new NASA study finds that the recent drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region, which comprises Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past nine centuries,” (Source: NASA Finds Drought in Eastern Mediterranean Worst of Past 900 Years, nasa.gov, March 1, 2016). Did somebody say, “global warming”?

Meanwhile, and only very recently, extraordinarily bad news is coming out 0f the Arctic: The Siberian Times d/d October 4tth has an article about an expedition to the Laptev Sea (Arctic) bringing forth awful news, simply awful, as scientists discover severe underwater permafrost degradation. Dr. Igor Semiletov of Tomsk Polytechnic University led the charge on the research vessel Academic M.A. Lavrentyev on a 40-day mission.

Accordingly, the East Siberian Shelf is one of the world’s most active and dangerous sources of methane (CH4) release into the atmosphere: Back in 2014, according to Dr. Semiletov: ‘Emissions of methane from the East Siberian Shelf – which is the widest and most shallow shelf of the World Ocean – exceed the average estimate emissions of all the world’s oceans. We have reason to believe that such emissions may change the climate. This is due to the fact that the reserves of methane under the submarine permafrost exceed the methane content in the atmosphere by many thousands of times,” Arctic Methane Gas Emission ‘Significantly Increased Since 2014’ – Major New Research, The Siberian Times, October 4, 2016.

This year’s new expedition revealed significant methane release noticeably more so than past expeditions in the same area explored 2011 thru 2014. Alarmingly, the degradation of underwater permafrost is only getting worse. However, truth be told, nobody really knows for sure how much locked-in-ice-methane is in the permafrost, but scientists witness enormous plumes of methane within water columns, spewing into the atmosphere. At some point in time, that’s immensely problematic for life on Earth. Still, nobody really knows for sure when runaway global warming hits hard, 5 years, 20 years, 100 years. It happens unannounced!

Five years ago, Dr. Semiletov said: “We found more than 100 fountains each of more than a kilometer across. These are methane fields on a scale not seen before. The emissions went directly into the atmosphere. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful, and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 meters in diameter,” Ibid.

That is dreadful news, especially if and when the Arctic loses its protective ice cap, like right now! It’s a likely precursor to runaway global warming, which, over time, has the potential to incinerate any and all human life, assuming some people are fortunate enough to survive brutal bloodthirsty food/land wars along the way, kinda like the post-apocalyptic dystopian film Mad Max (1979), societal collapse, feud, and vengeance. Runaway global warning has that kind of dystopian power.

Here’s the genesis of the current impending disaster alert: For thousands of years, thick multi-year Arctic ice has prevented frozen methane release into the atmosphere, but nowadays the Arctic has turned into a slush pit, losing its multi-year thickness which reflects up to 90% of incoming solar radiation back out into outer space. But, slush doesn’t measure up to the job!

Already, it is well established that anthropogenic (human-caused) fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are responsible for the severe Arctic meltdown, whereas, up until 10 years ago, the Arctic had substantial multi-year ice 5-10-25 feet thick, actually throughout the course of human history, but no longer, as the once almighty Arctic has turned into a weakling, a slush pool.

Now, solar radiation has a clear pathway to permafrost to heat-up frozen methane trapped under the thick ice ever since the last Ice Age 10,000-12,000 years ago. Not only that but CH4 is much, much more powerful at accelerating global warming than is CO2.

For those who happen to be standing, please sit down to handle a knuckle sandwich: “It is polar night in the Arctic—a darkness that lasts from early October to early March. Temperatures rarely escape freezing in that darkness, averaging -30° F until the light begins to return in spring. Right now, however, temperatures across much of the Arctic are 36 degrees F above normal. Large areas are well above freezing. And instead of rapidly expanding, sea ice extent is in decline. Taken together, this is not unusual. It’s unheard of.” (Source: Erika Spanger-Siegfried, Global Warming in the Arctic: A Sensitive Climate Gone Off the Rails, Union of Concerned Scientists, November 21, 2016).

The Union of Concerned Scientists statement that Arctic conditions have gone off the rails and “unheard of” is kinda like a 105 mph fastball whizzing across the plate in the World Series; all heads turn.

Today’s Arctic conditions are unprecedented. Global sea ice extent is literally falling off the edge of the cliff on a graph of Global Sea Ice Extent provided by NSDIC (National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Co), which displays yearly ice extent since 1978. The 2016 graph line horrifyingly plummets straight down, steeply below all previous years. It’s hard to imagine worse news.

“Global sea ice extent began 2016 (thick red line) at low levels. Just in recent days, the Arctic has lost more than a million square kilometers of sea ice, reaching a new record low and contributing to a steep decline in November’s total global sea ice extent. Antarctic sea ice extent is also at record low levels,” (Source: NSDIC).

But, it’s November! The Arctic is supposed to be frozen, not melting away.

“By many available measures, the oncoming Arctic winter is in a nose dive unprecedented in recent record keeping,” (NSDIC). A “nose dive” says a lot.

The Arctic is breaking records left and right!

Here’s more horrible news from Union of Concerned Scientists: “Myron Ebell—one of the world’s most prominent and vocal climate change deniers—has been tasked with overseeing the [Trump] transition of the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency. The very agency tasked with implementing the nation’s leading plan for curbing global warming pollution—the Clean Power Plan,” (The Union of Concerned Scientists).

And, that’s not all, here’s more horrible news: “Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation was named to lead president-elect Trump’s State Department transition. Groves penned, just last week, an article advocating a speedy withdrawal from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which we’ve been a party since its ratification in 1992. It’s a move that would scrap our commitments under the landmark Paris Climate Agreement—you know, that thing that stands between us and catastrophic warming,” (The Union of Concerned Scientists).

Nobody really has any idea if and/or when Runaway Global Warming (RGW) will hit civilization like a ton of bricks, but lo and behold scientists do have knowledge of an extreme case in the paleoclimate record: Fifty-five (55) million years ago, global temps increased by 5° C within 13 years; CO2 in the atmosphere was 1,000 ppm and there was no ice on the planet, gulp. That’s remarkable because it should take hundreds of years, or longer, for global temps to increase by that amount, not a measly 13 years, and probably never to be duplicated, but even a lesser number today would be catastrophic.

One Hundred Ninety-Five (195) delegate nations to the Paris Climate Agreement agreed to voluntarily try to hold global temps to 2° C pre-industrial. Obviously, there can be no guarantees, and incidentally, how could there be?

But, wait a moment, what about the endless supply of drought-stricken eastern Mediterranean climate migrants spreading all across Europe, and how about the smashingly perilous Arctic meltdown?

After all, the planet hasn’t even come close to hitting the 2° C marker, yet all hell is breaking lose!

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Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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