Tag Archives: antarctic

Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

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Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

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Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

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Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

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Urban hunters are pretty delighted by the coyote takeover.

It started with the cinematic, widely serenaded death of spunky little spacebot Cassini, closing out a 13-year mission to Saturn with a headlong dive into the planet’s gaseous atmosphere.

Meanwhile, back on a more familiar planet, an orbiting satellite named DMSP F19 quietly blinked out. The DMSP weather-tracking satellites have meticulously recorded Arctic sea ice coverage since 1978, which makes them one of our longest-running climate observations. But in 2015, Congress voted to mothball the last satellite in the series. Now, on the cusp of the biggest planetary shift humans have ever seen, we stand to lose one of our best means for understanding it.

Also this year, I started following LandsatBot, a project by Welsh glaciologist Martin O’Leary that tweets out random satellite views of Earth’s surface hourly. Like a geographic Chat Roulette, LandsatBot scratches the same imaginative itch that high-def images of Saturn’s rings do, but its alien views are all terrestrial. From satellite height, every landscape looks like an abstract painting, all fractal rivers and impressionist daubs of cloud.

These days, amidst an unending torrent of Game of Thrones gifs, signs of the end of democracy, and variations on that distracted boyfriend meme, I sometimes come across a Landsat image dropped without comment into the clutter. I stop and stare. Whether it’s an astroturf-green wedge of land somewhere in the Indonesian archipelago or the Crest-colored swirl of icy Antarctic seas, I try to imagine the world down there: A place I will probably never go, without landmarks or footprints, but irrevocably changed by us. Whether you recognize it or not, it’s home.

Amelia Urry is an associate editor at Grist.

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Urban hunters are pretty delighted by the coyote takeover.

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California scientists are calling for the largest U.S. investment in climate research in years.

That’s all kinds of scary. If there’s one place on Earth that would be the worst possible spot for a giant volcanic chain, it’s beneath West Antarctica. Turns out, it’s not a great situation to have a bunch of volcanoes underneath a huge ice sheet.

In a discovery announced earlier this week, a team of researchers discovered dozens of them across a 2,200-mile swath of the frozen continent. Antarctica, if you’re listening, please stop scaring us.

The study that led to the discovery was conceived of by an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries. With a team of researchers, he used radar to look under the ice for evidence of cone-shaped mountains that had disturbed the ice around them. They found 91 previously unknown volcanoes. “We were amazed,” Robert Bingham, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian.

The worry is that, as in Iceland and Alaska, two regions of active volcanism that were ice-covered until relatively recently, a warming climate could help these Antarctic volcanoes spring to life soon. In a worst-case scenario, the melting ice could release pressure on the volcanoes and trigger eruptions, further destabilizing the ice sheet.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” Bingham said.

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California scientists are calling for the largest U.S. investment in climate research in years.

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Obama halts new oil drilling in the Arctic — for now.

Into the ocean, it seems. New satellite data show the total area of global sea ice dipping wayyy below the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s record for this time of year.

In fact, Arctic sea ice has dropped well below the next-lowest seasonal extent ever observed (which was in 2012). That year’s all-time record low was narrowly avoided in September, the month when Arctic sea ice levels typically are at their lowest. But the fact that ice levels are lower now than they were this same time in 2012 is part of what makes this latest data so alarming.

Meanwhile, Antarctic sea ice is also much lower than usual at the end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

We’ve gotten somewhat used to broken records here, but watching sea ice levels flatten out when they should be peaking is well beyond normal understanding of record lows and highs.

Meanwhile, the temperature at the North Pole right now is a not-cool 36 degrees F above average. Is this what the Upside Down feels like?

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Obama halts new oil drilling in the Arctic — for now.

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Watch people on the frontlines of the Dakota Access fight defend their water and their rights.

Into the ocean, it seems. New satellite data show the total area of global sea ice dipping wayyy below the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s record for this time of year.

In fact, Arctic sea ice has dropped well below the next-lowest seasonal extent ever observed (which was in 2012). That year’s all-time record low was narrowly avoided in September, the month when Arctic sea ice levels typically are at their lowest. But the fact that ice levels are lower now than they were this same time in 2012 is part of what makes this latest data so alarming.

Meanwhile, Antarctic sea ice is also much lower than usual at the end of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

We’ve gotten somewhat used to broken records here, but watching sea ice levels flatten out when they should be peaking is well beyond normal understanding of record lows and highs.

Meanwhile, the temperature at the North Pole right now is a not-cool 36 degrees F above average. Is this what the Upside Down feels like?

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Watch people on the frontlines of the Dakota Access fight defend their water and their rights.

Posted in alo, Anchor, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LG, ONA, Oster, Ringer, Ultima, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Watch people on the frontlines of the Dakota Access fight defend their water and their rights.

Bundys acquitted as authorities go after Standing Rock.

The Ross Sea marine reserve, which covers 600,000 square miles of the Southern Ocean off coast of the Antarctic, will be protected from commercial fishing for the next 35 years. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international consortium of governments, approved it unanimously on Thursday.

At nearly twice the size of Texas, the area is home to over 10,000 species of flora and fauna, including penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish.

But Ross Sea is also important for the valuable role it plays in research on the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems.

Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the park as “one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet,” and a sign of “further proof that the world is finally beginning to understand the urgency of the threats facing our planet.”

There are some environmentalists who say the designation doesn’t go far enough. World Wildlife Foundation’s Chris Johnson noted that the agreement must be made permanent.

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Bundys acquitted as authorities go after Standing Rock.

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Put down that polar bear pic and back away slowly.

The Ross Sea marine reserve, which covers 600,000 square miles of the Southern Ocean off coast of the Antarctic, will be protected from commercial fishing for the next 35 years. Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, an international consortium of governments, approved it unanimously on Thursday.

At nearly twice the size of Texas, the area is home to over 10,000 species of flora and fauna, including penguins, seals, whales, seabirds, and fish.

But Ross Sea is also important for the valuable role it plays in research on the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems.

Secretary of State John Kerry celebrated the park as “one of the last unspoiled ocean wilderness areas on the planet,” and a sign of “further proof that the world is finally beginning to understand the urgency of the threats facing our planet.”

There are some environmentalists who say the designation doesn’t go far enough. World Wildlife Foundation’s Chris Johnson noted that the agreement must be made permanent.

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Put down that polar bear pic and back away slowly.

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The planet is a big, wobbly top — and melting ice is changing how it spins

The planet is a big, wobbly top — and melting ice is changing how it spins

By on 8 Apr 2016comments

Cross-posted from

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The spin of the earth is a constant in our lives. It’s quite literally why night follows day.

And while that cycle isn’t going away, climate change is messing with the axis upon which our fair planet spins. Ice melting has caused a drift in polar motion, a somewhat esoteric term that tells scientists a lot about past and future climate and is crucial in GPS calculations and satellite communication.

Before 2000, Earth’s spin axis was drifting toward Canada (left globe). Climate change-driven ice loss in Greenland, Antarctica and elsewhere is pulling the direction of drift eastward.NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Polar motion refers to the periodic wobble and drift of the poles. It’s been observed for more than 130 years, but the process has been going on for eons driven by mass shifts inside the earth as well as ones on the surface. For decades, the north pole had been slowly drifting toward Canada, but there was a shift in the drift about 15 years ago. Now it’s headed almost directly down the Greenwich Meridian (sorry Canada, no pole for you, eh).

Like many other natural processes large and small, from sea levels to wildfires, climate change is also playing a role in this shift.

“Since about 2000, there has been a dramatic shift in this general direction,” Surendra Adhikari, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “It is due to climate change without a doubt. It’s related to ice sheets, in particular the Greenland ice sheet.”

That ice sheet has seen its ice loss speed up and has lost an average of 278 gigatons of ice a year since 2000 as temperatures warm. The Antarctic has lost 92 gigatons a year over that time while other stashes of ice from Alaska to Patagonia are also melting and sending water to the oceans, redistributing the weight of the planet.

Adhikari and his colleague Erik Ivins published their findings in Science Advances on Friday, showing that melting ice explains about 66 percent of the change in the shift of the Earth’s spin axis, particularly the rapid losses occurring in Greenland.

It’s a huge, mind boggling process on the global scale, but imagine it like a top. Spinning a top with a bunch of pennies on it will cause wobble and drift in a certain pattern. If you rearrange the pennies, the wobble and drift will be slightly different.

That’s essentially what climate change is doing, except instead of pennies, it’s ice and instead of a top, it’s the planet. Suffice to say, the stakes are a little higher.

Ice loss explains most but not all of the shift. The rest can mostly be chalked up to droughts and heavy rains in certain parts of the globe. Adhikari said this knowledge could be used to help scientists analyze past instances of polar motion shifts and rainfall patterns as well as answer questions about future hydrological cycle changes.

Ice is expected to continue melting and with it, polar motion is expected to continue changing as well.

“What I can tell you is we anticipate a big loss of mass from West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and that will mean that the general direction of the pole won’t go back to Canada for sure,” Adhikari said.

If it continues moving down the Greenwich Meridian or meanders another way remains to be seen, though.

“This depends highly on the region where ice melts, or if the effect of ice melt would be counterbalanced by another effect (for example sea level rise, increased water storage on continents, changes of climate zones),” Florian Seitz, the director of German Geodetic Research Institute, said in an email.

In the here and now, polar motion shifts matter for astronomical observations and perhaps even more importantly for the average person, GPS calculations.

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The planet is a big, wobbly top — and melting ice is changing how it spins

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The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought

The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought

By on 22 Mar 2016 10:11 amcommentsShare

The rewards of being right about climate change are bittersweet. James Hansen should know this better than most — he warned of this whole thing before Congress in 1988, when he was director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies. At the time, the world was experiencing its warmest five-month run since we started recording temperatures 130 years earlier. Hansen said, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Fast forward 28 years and, while we’re hardly out of the Waffle House yet, we know much more about climate change science. Hansen is still worried that the rest of us aren’t worried enough.

Last summer, prior to countries’ United Nations negotiations in Paris, Hansen and 16 collaborators authored a draft paper that suggested we could see at least 10 feet of sea-level rise in as few as 50 years. If that sounds alarming to you, it is — 10 feet of sea-level rise is more than enough to effectively kick us out of even the most well-endowed coastal cities. Stitching together archaeological evidence of past climate change, current observations, and future-telling climate models, the authors suggested that even a small amount of global warming can rack up enormous consequences — and quickly.

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However the paper, publicized before it had been through peer review, elicited a mix of shock and skepticism, with some journalists calling the news a “bombshell” but a number of scientists urging deeper consideration.

Now, the final version of the paper has been published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. It’s been reviewed and lightly edited, but its conclusions are still shocking — and still contentious.

So what’s the deal? The authors highlight several of threats they believe we’ll face this century, including many feet of sea-level rise, a halting of major ocean circulatory currents, and an outbreak of super storms. These are the big threats we’ve been afraid of — and Hansen et al. say they could be here before we know it — well before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sanctioned climate models predict.

Here we help you understand their new paper:

NASA

Sea-level rise

The scientists estimate that existing climate models aren’t accounting well enough for current ice loss off of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Right now, Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets both contribute under or near 1 millimeter to sea-level rise every year; they each contain enough stored ice to drive up ocean levels by 20 and 200 feet, respectively.

This study suggests that, since the rate of ice loss is increasing, we should think of it not as a straight line but as an exponential curve, doubling every few years. But how much time it takes to double makes a big difference. Right now, measurements of ice loss aren’t clear enough to even make a strong estimate about how long that period might be. Is it 10 years or is it 40? It’s hard to say based on the limited data we have now, which would make a big difference either way.

But then again, we don’t even know that ice loss is exponential. Ian Joughin — a University of Washington researcher unaffiliated with the paper and who has studied the tipping points of Antarctic glaciers — put it this way: Think about the stock market in the ’80s. If you observed a couple years of accelerating growth, and decided that rate would double every 4 years — you’d have something like 56,000 points in the Dow Jones Industrial by now.

Or if stocks aren’t your thing, think about that other exponentially expanding force of nature: bacteria. Certain colonies of bacteria can double their population in a matter of hours. Can they do this forever? No, or else we’d be nothing but bacteria right now (and while we’re certainly a high percentage of bacteria, there’s still room for a couple other things).

Nature tends to put limits on exponential growth, Joughin points out — and the same probably goes for ice loss: “There’s only so fast you can move ice out of an ice sheet,” Joughin explained. While some ice masses may be collapsing at an accelerating rate, others won’t be as volatile.

This means, while some parts of ice sheet collapse may very well proceed exponentially, we can’t expect such simple mathematics to model anything in the real world except the terror spike of the Kingda Ka.

Shutterstock

Ocean turnover

Mmm mm, ocean turnover: Is it another word for a sushi roll or a fundamental process that keeps the climate relatively stable and moderate?

That’s right — we’re talking the Atlantic Meridonal Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, and other currents like it.

As cold meltwater flows off of glaciers and ice sheets at enormous rates, it pools at the ocean’s surface, trapping the denser but warmer saltwater beneath it. This can seriously mess with the moving parts of the ocean, the so-called “conveyor belts” that cycle deep nutrient-rich water to the surface. These slow currents are driven by large-scale climate processes, like wind, and drive others, like the carbon cycle. But they also rely on gradients in temperature and density to run; if too much cold water from the glaciers pools at the surface, the whole conveyor belt could stutter to a stop.

In the North Atlantic, this would mean waters get colder, while the tropics, denied their influx of colder water, would heat up precipitously. Hansen says we’re already seeing the beginnings of AMOC’s slowdown: There’s a spot of unusually cool water hanging out off of Greenland, while the U.S. East Coast continues to see warmer and warmer temperatures. Hansen said it plainly in a call with reporters: “I think this is the beginning of substantial slowdown of the AMOC.”

NASA

Superstorms

Pointing to giant hunks of rock that litter the shore of the Bahamas, among other evidence of ancient climates, the study’s authors suggest that past versions of Earth may have featured superstorms capable of casually tossing boulders like bored Olympians.

And as the temperature gradient between the tropic and the polar oceans gets steeper, thanks to that slowing of ocean-mixing currents, we could see stronger storms, too.

This is surprisingly intuitive: Picture a temperature gradient like a hill, with the high temperatures up at the top and the low temperatures down at the bottom. As the highs get higher and the lows get lower, that hill gets a lot steeper — and the storms are the bowling balls you chuck down the hill. A bowling ball will pick up a lot more speed on a steep hill, and hurt a lot more when it finally runs into something. Likewise, by the time these supercharged storms are slamming into coasts in the middle latitudes, they will be carrying a whole lot of deadly force with them.

So what does it all mean?

Whether other scientists quibble over these results or not — and they probably will — the overall message is hardly new. It’s bad, you guys. It might be really, truly, deeply bad, or it might be slightly less bad. Either way, says Hansen, what we know for sure is that it’s time to do something about it. “Among the top experts, there’s a pretty strong agreement that we’ve reached a point where this is truly urgent,” he said.

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So Hansen is frustrated once more with the failure of humanity to respond adequately. The result he’d hoped for when he released an early version of the paper online last summer was to get world leaders to come together in Paris to agree on a global price on carbon. As he told Grist’s Ben Adler at the time, “It’s going to happen.” (It didn’t happen, but some other stuff did.)

Still, true urgency would require more of us than just slowing the growth of emissions — it requires stopping them altogether. In a paper published in 2013, Hansen found that we have to cut 6 percent of our use of carbon-based fuels every year, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change.

Carbon prices and emissions cuts are more the purview of politicians and diplomats, but if anything, Hansen has shown he is unafraid to stray beyond the established protocol of academic science.

“I think scientists, who are trained to be objective, have something to offer by analyzing the problem all the way to the changes that are needed in order to address it,” he said on a press call. “That 6 percent reduction — that’s not advocacy, that’s science. And then I would advocate that we do that!”

And to pre-empt the haters, Hansen wants you to remember one thing. “Skepticism is the life blood of science. You can be sure that some scientists will find some aspects in our long paper that they will think of differently,” he said. “And that’s normal.”

So while scientists continue their debate over whether the ice sheets are poised to collapse in the next 50 years or the next 500, the prognosis is the same: The future is wetter, stranger, stormier unless we make serious moves to alternative energy sources now. Will we? Maybe. We’ve started but we still have a long, long way to go. If it’s a race between us and the ice sheets, neither I nor James Hansen nor anyone else can tell you for sure who will win.

Hey, no one said telling the future was easy.

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The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought

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