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September 20 2013


August 23 2013


Video Friday: Greenland Ice Melt – Bellwether of Changing Climate

Scientists and Greenland Inuits confirm findings of leaked IPCC report

Due out later this year, early drafts of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were leaked earlier this week, confirming what scientists have been saying now for years, even decades: global warming is real. Many see little change in the IPCC’s Fifth Report from its previous assessment published in 2007, albeit with ever-increased confidence in the science and better understanding of regional climate change. One notable difference is the projection of change in the Arctic, where observations of rapid warming and melting ice portend change at a scale of which previous assessments have only hinted.

“We’ve overloaded the atmosphere with heat-trapping gas, and the rest are just details,” says climate scientist Jason Box, who has spent the past twenty years studying the Greenland ice sheet. “There are manifold ways that climate change is having impact. The Arctic is a very useful bellwether of change – and it’s ringing.”

None have heard the ringing of change more than those that have lived in the Arctic for generations. For these people climate change is a day-to-day reality that threatens a way of life.

“The only humans around the North Pole, in the Arctic are us” says Inuit leader Aqqaluk Lynge, “We have been here for thousands of years, and we tell you things are changing. And you will feel it, maybe tomorrow.”

In fact, we don’t need to wait until “tomorrow” it feel it. Climate change is here, everywhere.

Featured image credit: Andrew Davies, courtesy flickr

The post Video Friday: Greenland Ice Melt – Bellwether of Changing Climate appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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August 16 2012


Record-breaking Greenland Seasonal Ice Melt With One Month Left to Go

Greenland ice melt is accelerating The cumulative melting index is what scientists use to quantify both the extent and duration of melting over the Greenland ice sheet and is typically measured at the end of every melt season, about mid-September. Though the final tally for this year’s cumulative melting index isn’t due for another four weeks, it has already broken the previous record set at the end of the melt season in 2010. Researchers reported this week that as of August 8th the ice shelf atop Greenland has melted more than at any time since such measurements began 30 years ago.

This most recent report of ice melt in Greenland follows on the startling news last month that 97 percent of Greenland ice surface had melted to some degree in as little as four days. Some of that ice refroze within a few days “changing the physical properties of the snowpack but very likely not contributing to the meltwater that run off from the ice and can potentially contribute to sea level rise,” said Marco Tedesco, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences the City College of New York and author of report.

The recent data on overall melt as measured by the cumulative melting index can impact sea level rise from meltwater flowing directly into the ocean or through “basal lubrication” where meltwater flows into deep crevasses, lubricating glaciers and precipitating the flow of ice into the sea.

“Over the past few years about half of Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise has come from meltwater, and half from ice going directly into the sea,” Tedesco said. A number of factors play into the accelerated surface melt over the past decade, he explained, with higher air temperatures in the Arctic principal among them. The highlands of Greenland, which normally experience melting for only a few days each season, if at all, now endurs melt conditions for weeks. When the snow melts and refreezes it becomes darker, when the snow disappears entirely leaving bare ice exposed, the surface is darker still. All this melting/refreezing or melting entirely alters the albedo effect, which absorbs more of the sun’s energy. A study released in June confirms that Greenland’s albedo is higher this season the normal.

“Snow absorbs about 20 percent of the energy that hits it and reflects the rest,” Tedesco said. “Ice absorbs more like 60 or 70 percent.”

The accelerating ice loss shows Greenland in a state of change predicted by climate models, but coming at a quickened pace models have not foreseen.

With more yet to come in August, this year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records,” says Tedesco. “That’s a goliath year – the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979.”

But he cautions some restraint:

“We have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia. But as far as we know now, the warming that we see in the Arctic is responsible for triggering processes that enhance melting and for the feedback mechanisms that keep it going. Looking over the past few years, the exception has become part of the norm.”

Greenland Cumulative Ice index

Main image credit: sbisson, courtesy flickr
Graph courtesy of GreenlandMelting.com

August 15 2012


"Goliath" Melting Year Shatters Records in Greenland

It’s been a “Goliath,” record-setting melting year in Greenland, home of the world’s second largest ice shelf. On August 8th, a full four weeks before the end of “melting season,” cumulative melting on the island had exceeded the previous record set in 2010, which included the full season.

The record melt was figured by the “cumulative melting index,” created by researcher Marco Tedesco of The City College of New York’s Cryosphere Processes Laboratory to measure the “strength” of the melting season. The index is basically the number of days when melting occurs multiplied by the physical area that is subject to melting.

Tedesco said in a statement, “With more yet to come in August, this year’s overall melting will fall way above the old records. That’s a goliath year — the greatest melt since satellite recording began in 1979.”

Earlier this summer, much was made of a massive melt event on Greenland, during which 97 percent of the island’s ice sheet surface area experienced thaw and melt over a short couple of days. While the event was startling, and a direct result of record high surface air temperatures, this measure of the overall melting is far more alarming.

The mid-July event, according to Tedesco, “generated liquid water that refroze after a few days, changing the physical properties of the snowpack but very likely not contributing to the meltwater that run offs from the ice and can potentially contribute to sea level rise.”

The cumulative melting index, on the other hand, accounts for longer-term melting trends, during which meltwater can flow into the ocean. According to Tedesco’s research, Greenland experienced “extreme” melting across most regions, especially in the south, west, northwest and northeast, particularly at high elevations.

These high elevation areas, according to Tedesco, “are generally subject to a few days of melting (if it happens at all) and this year they underwent melting for more than 2 months (so far).

But perhaps a map is worth a thousand words. Here you see the 2012 anomaly of the number of melting days with respect to a 20 year average from 1980-1999. The areas in red are where melting lasted for up to 50 days more than that baseline.

Of course, plenty of deniers will argue that Greenland was once green, and that melt events like this occur regularly and Medieval Warm Period and so on and so forth.

To which you can reply: the surface air temperatures in Greenland are warmer now than at any point in recorded history, dating back 172 years, and are likely, according to Jason Box of Ohio State University, the highest they’ve been since the time the Norse colonized Greenland in 982.

And, yes, while temperatures were abnormally warm in Greenland then, during the Medieval Warm Period, globally temperatures were actually cooler than they are today.

As this handy map reveals, over much of the globe, temperatures were actually cooler during the MWP, relative to the averages from 1961-1990.

In other words, the Medieval Warm Period was really a regional, not global phenomenon. The warming trends we see today are global, as this next map clearly shows, also based on temperature variation from the same 1961-1990 baseline.

(Both maps courtesy of Skeptical Science)

And what’s more: the warming of the Medieval Warm Period was caused by factors that simply aren’t in play today, specifically solar radiation. The causes of the Medieval Warm Period’s regional temperature increases aren’t the same as those causing the global increases today. 

So, it's true, as Tedesco warned, that "we have to be careful because we are only talking about a couple of years and the history of Greenland happened over millennia."

But he continues, "the warming that we see in the Arctic is responsible for triggering processes that enhance melting and for the feedback mechanisms that keep it going. Looking over the past few years, the exception has become part of the norm."

And it's worth keeping in mind that what we're seeing has been forecast by climate models that warn of sea level rise driven by ice loss from Greenland. The only difference is that these models didn't anticipate so much warming — and melting — so soon. 

July 27 2012


July 25 2012


April 26 2012


Greenland and the Great Ice Dilema

The Greenland Ice Sheet is melting fast, says a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder-based Cooperative Institute Research in Environmental Sciences. This is largely (if not entirely) due to the massive releases of meltwater, which come from surface lakes. The supraglacial lakes are draining more frequently, which very well may affect the rise of the sea level.

In the summer, meltwater gathers on the surface of the ice sheet. When a large enough lake forms, the ice beneath it cracks, forming what some call a “vertical drainpipe.” Massive amounts of water get sucked down beneath the ice sheet.
More meltwater is being sucked through the ice than before due to global warming. Estimates are that enough water to fill 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools funnels down through the ice bed, turning the ice-bed surface into a “slip ‘n’ slide” which quickens the ice sheet’s presumed inevitable slide into the ocean. This will cause sea levels to rise dramatically, which could be catastrophic, particularly to those living near the coast.

There is hope that this won’t happen, however. An alternate scenario suggests the lake draining through the ice bed just might carve out sub-glacial “sewers,” which would channel the water directly to the ocean. This would prevent the ice sheet’s slide into the ocean, at least in the near future.

So what can you do to help slow down global warming and similar environmental issues? One  place to start is at home. Consider installing solar panels and become part of the new energy economy by generating energy that doesn’t require burning fossil fuels.

Hopefully the Greenland ice sheet will remain intact for many more years to come.

Photo Credit: Blmiers2 via Flicker Creative Commons

September 20 2011


On Our Radar: Nuclear Protest in Tokyo

The march reflects the depth of alarm that persists among Japanese citizens over the March 11 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

June 22 2011


Eureka! A Roaming Bowhead Whale

An Arctic research expedition spots its first bowhead off the Greenland coast and captures an image and acoustic recordings.

June 09 2011


Small Boat, Big Mission: An Arctic Whale Survey

An eight-member expedition sails toward Lancaster Sound, described as one of the most vulnerable yet biologically richest places in the Arctic Ocean.

April 29 2011


A Journey Into the Past, Drinks Included

"The Fate of Greenland" revisits journeys to the Arctic financed by Gary Comer, a Midwestern entrepreneur who wanted scientists to gain a profound understanding of climate change.

March 11 2011


Polar Ice Loss Is Accelerating, Scientists Say

The increasing ice loss means that for the first time, Greenland and Antarctica appear to be adding more to sea-level rise than the world's other reserves of ice -- primarily mountain glaciers, which are also melting because of rising temperatures.

March 03 2011


A Big Surprise Beneath the Ice

A new study shows that ice melts far more extensively at the base of the Antarctic ice sheet, miles below the surface, than scientists had thought. The findings raise the possibility that melt water may even help govern the behavior of glaciers.
Reposted by02mydafsoup-01 02mydafsoup-01

January 28 2011


Arctic Waters Warmer Than in 2,000 Years

The findings are another indication that recent global warming is atypical in the context of historical climate fluctuations, a paleoclimatologist says.

November 15 2010


Roman Decadence and Rising Seas

In studying Roman fish tanks carved into the Mediterranean shore, scientists concluded that global ocean volume had not changed much from the Roman era to the 19th century. But now sea levels are rising.

October 25 2010


August 09 2010


Iceberg as a Metaphor for Inaction

Greenland as a whole is rapidly warming, and its vast ice sheet has lost more than 1.5 trillion tons of ice over the past decade, studies show.

July 16 2010


June 26 2010


What, you thought it was only Japan?

Greenland wins back right to kill humpback whales | Reuters.

Yes, bad news:

Greenland has won back the right to hunt humpback whales for the first time in a quarter-century after it threatened to leave the world’s top whaling body if other nations reject its ancestral traditions.

“We cannot wait any longer,” Ane Hansen, Greenland’s Minister for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, said just before the consensus vote by the 88 nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco on Friday.

“Greenlanders are whale eaters but our subsistence needs have been cut down and cut down,” she told Reuters.

Subsistence or culture? Possibly both, maybe none.

Whaling opponents say Greenland’s whale hunt is big business, the meat sold in supermarkets for ten times the price in traditional markets and whale steaks served in luxury hotels.

“Greenland must withdraw its humpback quota request until it can demonstrate that all currently available whale meat is used to meet genuine subsistence needs,” the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said in a statement before the vote.

All fair points. There is probably a bit of all that: lobbying by the fishing industry, culture, commercial interest. I don’t however, buy the subsistence argument, since it assumes these people have no alternative but to hunt and eat whale or die. No, that is incorrect. In today’s globalised world, people from Greenland can access foodstuffs from anywhere in the world just as easily as anyone else.

The point here goes back to economics, valuation and good old Total Economic Value: for me, as for so many people in other parts of the world, whales have non-use value: existence value, bequest value, option value; for people in Japan or Greenland, whales have a definitive use value, dictated by the market (and apparently, that value is going through the roof as a result of scarcity). So… how much is the existence value of whales? In other words, how much are you willing to pay Japanese, Green-landers and other whaling nations to forego fishing? As long as it is above the returns to fisheries, there will be whales.

Punchline: one nation breaks the consensus, other immediately jump into the breach.

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