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January 31 2012

18:35

The Oceanic Conveyor Belt: Climate Change Tipping Points Being Reached in the Arctic, Western Boundary Ocean Currents


Accelerated changes in the Arctic are moving ocean currents poleward and threaten the oceanic conveyor belt

Two new research papers by authoritative climate research teams were announced this week — one on climate change tipping points being reached in the Arctic and a second on warming of long-distance, poleward-moving ocean currents. The results of the studies show that warming of both the Arctic and western boundary currents is happening faster than has been anticipated, prompting the researchers to publicly urge that efforts to adapt to abrupt climate change be intensified globally.

Climate Change Tipping Points in the Arctic

In “Abrupt climate change in the Arctic,” University of Western Australia (UWA) Ocean Institute researchers lead by director and Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte found that the Arctic is warming at a rate three times faster than the global average, which has caused Arctic summer sea ice to melt and recede at a pace faster than researchers have forecast.

Arctic summer sea ice may be limited to the the waters off northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island in as short a period as the next decade, and is likely to disappear entirely by the middle of the century, according to a WA News report. The warming’s occurring so fast that it’s not only threatening Arctic ecosystems and traditional ways of life, the Arctic may change from being a net carbon sink to a net source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The fast warming Arctic is opening up new sea lanes and a bonanza of resource exploration and exploitation, as well as political controversy over resource rights. However, faster than anticipated warming and melting will also have “abrupt knock-on effects” across major world cities in northern mid-latitudes, a list that includes Beijing, Berlin, London, Moscow, New York and Tokyo. Tentatively linked is the occurrence of much colder winters in Europe.

Warming of Western Ocean Boundary Currents

Also published in Nature Climate Change, “Enhanced warming over the global subtropical western boundary currents,” is a global study of fast-moving, long-distance ocean currents, such as the Gulfstream, that distribute heat and moisture from warming tropical ocean waters globally.

Moving along the western boundaries of the world’s ocean basins, changes in water temperature of these currents also have significant, large-scale effects on climate globally. Releasing heat and moisture on their way from the equator to the poles, they affect atmospheric jet streams and mid-latitude storms and patterns, as well as ocean absorption of carbon dioxide.

Reconstructing and re-examining data sets using new methods, the research team found that “the post-1900 surface ocean warming rate over the path of these currents is two to three times faster than the global mean surface ocean warming rate. The accelerated warming is associated with a synchronous poleward shift and/or intensification of global subtropical boundary currents in conjunction with a systematic change in winds over both hemispheres.”

The faster than expected warming of these long-distance, poleward moving ocean currents “may reduce the ability of the oceans to absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide over these regions,” according to the report’s authors. “Uncertainties in detection and attribution of these warming trends remain,” they note, “pointing to a need for a long-term monitoring network of the global western boundary currents and their extensions.”

The Oceanic Conveyor Belt and Climate Change

Though not stated by the authors, the increasing incidence of unusual extreme storms, such as 2011′s Hurricane Irene, which carried as far north as the US’ mid-Atlantic and New England regions, and Typhoon Washi, which struck the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, may be evidence of the faster than expected melting of Arctic ice and faster than expected warming of western ocean boundary currents.

Moreover, the changes in both Arctic sea ice and western boundary currents are both aspects of what’s now known as the “oceanic conveyor belt” – scientific knowledge that’s come to us thanks to groundbreaking hypothesizing, testing and research performed by Wallace Broecker.

The abruptness and scale of the climate changes that increasingly appear to be headed our way warrant much greater attention by world leaders and policy makers. While exaggerated for dramatic effect, they bring to mind the popular disaster film, “The Day after Tomorrow,” the science of which is based on a shutting down of the oceanic conveyor belt Broecker first theorized, and the occurrence of world-changing super-storms that bring on a new Ice Age in a matter of months.

As UWA’s Prof. Duarte was quoted as saying, “We need to stop debating the existence of tipping points in the Arctic and start managing the reality of dangerous climate change.”

 

Image credit: NASA Ocean Motion

December 02 2010

19:10

The Climate Change Divide: Have We Reached a Political Tipping Point?


Are we at a political tipping point with global warming?Despite overwhelming physical evidence of anthropogenic climate change, and a definite of majority (97 percent) of scientists who agree that human activities are causing the climate to change, in the latest poll from the Pew Research Center found that the number of Americans who believe in climate change, particularly Republicans, has decreased dramatically since 2006.

In 2006, 79 percent of Americans believed there was evidence of global warming and 50% said it was caused by human activity. 61 percent felt it required immediate action. 59 percent said scientists agreed that the cause was human activity.  Only 29 percent said that scientists did not agree.

Now in 2010, 59 percent of American adults believe that there is evidence that the planet has been warming over the past decades, and 34 percent state that it is mostly caused by human activity. 32 percent see global warming as a serious problem, while 31 percent think it is somewhat serious. The public is also divided as to whether scientists themselves are in agreement that the planet is warming as a result of human activity – only 44 percent say that scientists agree, and 44 percent say that they do not.

While 80 percent of Democrats and a majority of independents state that there is solid evidence of climate change, with 34 percent believing that it is a result of human activities only 53 percent of Republicans say that there is no evidence of climate change whatsoever.

70 percent of those Republicans who were on board with the Tea Party movement were “much more likely…to say there is no solid evidence,” and “do not think that the earth’s temperature has been rising.” (Of the Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Partiers, only 38 percent hold this view.) 50 percent of the Tea Partiers  do not see global warming as any sort of problem and 71 percent believe that scientist do not agree as to whether or not human activity is the cause of global warming.

Evidence and perception diverge

This all during a year of climate disasters, of extreme weather – record breaking temperatures, heat waves, floods, and droughts. In the past century, sea level has risen 4 to 10 inches, and glaciers and ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates. On the Antarctic Peninsula, 90 percent of the glaciers are in retreat, and winter temperatures have soared by 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Habitats are shifting and seasonal cycles are changing, endangering countless species of plants and animals.

NOAA has reported that planet has been warming significantly, a full 1 degree Fahrenheit, over the last 50 years, that each of the past three decades was warmer than the last, and the 2000s is the warmest decade in recorded history. According to NASA, 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded.

Furthermore, the current level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — about 390 parts per million — is higher today than at any time in measurable history — at least the last 2.1 million years.

So, as the evidence has become alarmingly apparent year after year, why are the numbers of Americans who believe in climate change decreasing? When even prior climate change deniers poster boys Bjorn Lomberg and Fran Luntz have seen the light – or rather the heat.

Granted, the economy has taken its toll. These days, when countless Americans are focused on how to keep or get a job, concerned with how to feed their families, any other threats, especially those that are not immediately in one’s face, do not seem so urgent or significant. Moreover, the changes due to global warming are gradual, subtle, and much more pronounced in regions like Antarctica, where most Americans never go, much less even think about.

As Fen Montaigne writes:

“If such  profound changes (those occurring at the Antarctica peninsula) had come to our temperate zones over the last few decades – if average winter temps in New York City had soared a dozen degrees, if our oaks and maples were being replaced by palms, if sea levels had risen half a dozen feet – chances are the public would not be so indifferent to our warming world and many politicians would not be denying that climate is changing because of human activity.”

A tipping point?

And yet, they are. Have we reached the political tipping point in regards to climate change? Has the intensely divisive nature of our two party system, created two separate and not necessarily equal Americas? Even the news media is now as divided, and in parroting their own party line, they relay completely different views of the issues, of the world, of reality altogether.

A Yale/George Mason University poll released this past summer found similar results whereas a large number of those who considered themselves conservative, and/or part of the Tea Party movement, were either doubtful or dismissive about global warming, and those who considered themselves alarmed or concerned identified themselves as Democrats or liberals.  This poll also revealed that the news media consumed by those considered “alarmists” and those “dismissive” regarding climate change, were completely different – i.e. Fox News or MSNBC.

That said, what one may deduce from these polls is that Americans overall are NOT ignorant nor apathetic when it comes to climate change – only some, maybe half, of us, and mostly the Tea Party members of the Republican party. That’s the good news. The bad news, well, it is those Republicans, who as of this past Fall, have completely changed our political landscape, which may just have a direct effect upon our cultural, and our physical landscape, as well.

According to the blog Think Progress, 50 percent of the freshmen Republicans entering Congressdeny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change and increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers,” including longtime climate denier, and BP apologist, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).

Nevertheless, though opinions about and reactions to climate change are in stark contradiction between party lines, we all still live on the same planet, like it or not. When the seas and rivers rise, and the heartland turns to dust bowls, when the winter and summers are nearly intolerable, these effects will not vary between red states and blue states. Just because you don’t believe doesn’t mean it will not affect you – nor your grandchildren – nor theirs.

So here we are. In the worst recession since the 1930s, with an economy and infrastructure that desperately needs an influx of jobs, of which green jobs and a green economy is a perfect fit. Right as the UN Conference on climate change has begun; right as the moratorium on deepwater drilling has been lifted. At the brink of another year, another decade, where (some) Americans continue to hide their heads in the sands, or rather tar pits, and may just continue to do so for further decades, and generations to come. While China, and soon other countries, has quickly overtaken us in research and development, emerging as the pioneers in green technology and the green market, leaving us literally in the dust.

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