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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

C. Tarnocai et al., GBC, 23 (2009), Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region

Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 23 (2009) GB2023; doi:10.1029/2008GB003327

Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region

C. Tarnocai (Research Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), J. G. Canadell (Global Carbon Project, Marine and Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, Canberra, ACT, Australia), E. A. G. Schuur (Department of Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, U.S.A.), P. Kuhry (Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden), G. Mazhitova (Komi Science Center, Russian Academy of Sciences, Syktyvkar, Russia), and S. Zimov (Northeast Science Station, Russian Academy of Sciences, Cherskii, Russia)


The Northern Circumpolar Soil Carbon Database was developed in order to determine carbon pools in soils of the northern circumpolar permafrost region. The area of all soils in the northern permafrost region is approximately 18,782 × 103 km2, or approximately 16% of the global soil area. In the northern permafrost region, organic soils (peatlands) and cryoturbated permafrost-affected mineral soils have the highest mean soil organic carbon contents (32.2–69.6 kg m−2). Here we report a new estimate of the carbon pools in soils of the northern permafrost region, including deeper layers and pools not accounted for in previous analyses. Carbon pools were estimated to be 191.29 Pg for the 0–30 cm depth, 495.80 Pg for the 0–100 cm depth, and 1024.00 Pg for the 0–300 cm depth. Our estimate for the first meter of soil alone is about double that reported for this region in previous analyses. Carbon pools in layers deeper than 300 cm were estimated to be 407 Pg in yedoma deposits and 241 Pg in deltaic deposits. In total, the northern permafrost region contains approximately 1672 Pg of organic carbon, of which approximately 1466 Pg, or 88%, occurs in perennially frozen soils and deposits. This 1672 Pg of organic carbon would account for approximately 50% of the estimated global below-ground organic carbon pool.

(Received 13 August 2008, accepted 3 April 2009, published 27 June 2009.)

Tarnocai, C., J. G. Canadell, E. A. G. Schuur, P. Kuhry, G. Mazhitova, & S. Zimov (2009), Soil organic carbon pools in the northern circumpolar permafrost region, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 23, GB2023; doi:10.1029/2008GB003327.

Link to abstract:

Charles Tarnocai: Study estimates frozen carbon in permafrost double that in the atmosphere

Super-size deposits of frozen carbon in Arctic will worsen climate change

ScienceDaily, June 30, 2009 — The vast amount of carbon stored in the arctic and boreal regions of the world is more than double that previously estimated, according to a study published this week.

The amount of carbon in frozen soils, sediments and river deltas (permafrost) raises new concerns over the role of the northern regions as future sources of greenhouse gases.

"We now estimate the deposits contain over 1.5 trillion tons of frozen carbon, about twice as much carbon as contained in the atmosphere," said Dr. Charles Tarnocai, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, and lead author.

Dr. Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project at CSIRO, Australia, and co-author of the study, says that the existence of these super-sized deposits of frozen carbon means that any thawing of permafrost due to global warming may lead to significant emissions of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.

Carbon deposits frozen thousands of years ago can easily break down when permafrost thaws releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to another recent study by some of the same authors.

"Radioactive carbon dating shows that most of the carbon dioxide currently emitted by thawing soils in Alaska was formed and frozen thousands of years ago. The carbon dating demonstrates how easily carbon decomposes when soils thaw under warmer conditions," said Professor Ted Schuur, University of Florida and co-author of the paper.

The authors point out the large uncertainties surrounding the extent to which permafrost carbon thawing could further accelerate climate change.

"Permafrost carbon is a bit of a wildcard in the efforts to predict future climate change," said Dr Canadell. "All evidence to date shows that carbon in permafrost is likely to play a significant role in the 21st century climate given the large carbon deposits, the readiness of its organic matter to release greenhouse gases when thawed, and the fact that high latitudes will experience the largest increase in air temperature of all regions."

Carbon in permafrost is found largely in northern regions including Canada, Greenland, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Scandinavia and USA.

The carbon assessment is published this week in the journal of "Global Biogeochemical Cycles" of the American Geophysical Union, and the radiocarbon study was recently published in the journal of Nature.

Link to article:

CBS news flagrantly suppressed actual climate science when "reporting" on the supposedly suppressed EPA document

Reporting on possibly "suppressed" EPA document, suppressed actual climate science

From, June 29, 2009 8:29 pm ET

SUMMARY: uncritically reported an internal EPA document's false claim that "global temperatures have declined for 11 years."


In a June 26, 2009, article reporting that the Environmental Protection Agency "may have suppressed" an internal report on climate change, senior correspondent Declan McCullagh uncritically reported the document's false claim that, in the article's words, "global temperatures have declined for 11 years." McCullagh identified that claim as one of "a number of recent developments [one of the document's authors, EPA researcher Alan Carlin] said the EPA did not consider" before it submitted a key finding that could lead to EPA regulation of carbon dioxide. In fact, the claim that "global temperatures have declined for 11 years" is simply not true. Annual global average temperatures have both risen and fallen over the past 11 years, and while there have been some relatively cooler years during that period -- including a decline in each of the past three relative to the year before -- climate scientists reject the idea that those temperatures are any indication that global warming is slowing or does not exist. Scientists have identified a long-term warming trend spanning several decades that is independent from the normal climate variability -- which includes relatively short-term changes in climate due to events like El Niño and La Niña -- to which they attribute the recent relatively cooler temperatures.

In a February 11, 2009, Guardian op-ed, Vicky Pope, the head of climate change advice at the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre, wrote that claims about the pace of global warming based only on developments in the past 10 years or in the 1990s are not valid, "since natural variations always occur on this timescale." She continued, "1998 was a record-breaking warm year as long-term man-made warming combined with a naturally occurring strong El Niño. In contrast, 2008 was slightly cooler than previous years partly because of a La Niña. Despite this, it was still the 10th warmest on record." According to the Met Office, "Over the last ten years, global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend. But this does not mean that global warming has slowed down or even stopped. It is entirely consistent with our understanding of natural fluctuations of the climate within a trend of continued long-term warming."

As this graph of annual global average temperatures from the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre shows, the claim in the internal EPA document that, in the words of CBS, "global temperatures have declined for 11 years" is simply not true:

According to the Met Office website, the World Meteorological Organization "requires the calculation of averages for consecutive periods of 30 years," which was chosen "as a period long enough to eliminate year-to-year variations."

Moreover, McCullagh's article did not provide scientists' assessments of the validity of the EPA document's scientific claims. Rather, he quoted Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) general counsel Sam Kazman and Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). McCullagh noted that the CEI released the allegedly "suppressed" document and "has been skeptical of new laws or regulations relating to global warming," while Sensenbrenner was quoted as saying "the repression of this important study casts doubts on EPA's finding, and frankly, on other analysis EPA has conducted on climate issues."

By contrast, Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in a June 26, 2009, post that in reading the internal EPA document, "[o]ne can see a number of basic flaws [in its main points]; the complete lack of appreciation of the importance of natural variability on short time scales, the common but erroneous belief that any attribution of past climate change to solar or other forcing means that CO2 has no radiative effect, and a hopeless lack of familiarity of the basic science of detection and attribution." From Schmidt's post:

Some parts of the blogosphere, headed up by CEI ("CO2: They call it pollution, we call it life!"), are all a-twitter over an apparently "suppressed" document that supposedly undermines the EPA Endangerment finding about human emissions of carbon dioxide and a basket of other greenhouse gases. Well a draft of this "suppressed" document has been released and we can now all read this allegedly devastating critique of the EPA science. Let's take a look...


Their [the document authors'] main points are nicely summarised thus: a) the science is so rapidly evolving that IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] (2007) and CCSP (2009) reports are already out of date, b) the globe is cooling!, c) the consensus on hurricane/global warming connections has moved from uncertain to ambiguous, d) Greenland is not losing mass, no sirree..., e) the recession will save us!, f) water vapour feedback is negative!, and g) Scafetta and West's statistical fit of temperature to an obsolete solar forcing curve means that all other detection and attribution work is wrong. From this "evidence", they then claim that all variations in climate are internal variability, except for the warming trend which is caused by the sun, oh and by the way the globe is cooling.

Devastating eh?

One can see a number of basic flaws here; the complete lack of appreciation of the importance of natural variability on short time scales, the common but erroneous belief that any attribution of past climate change to solar or other forcing means that CO2 has no radiative effect, and a hopeless lack of familiarity of the basic science of detection and attribution.

But it gets worse, what solid peer-reviewed science do they cite for support? A heavily criticised blog posting showing that there are bi-decadal periods in climate data and that this proves it was the sun wot done it. The work of an award-winning astrologer (one Theodor Landscheidt, who also thought that the rise of Hilter and Stalin were due to cosmic cycles), a classic Courtillot paper we've discussed before, the aforementioned FoS [Friends of Science] web page, another web page run by Doug Hoyt, a paper by Garth Paltridge reporting on artifacts in the NCEP reanalysis of water vapour that are in contradiction to every other reanalysis, direct observations and satellite data, a complete reprint of another un-peer reviewed paper by William Gray, a nonsense paper by Miskolczi, etc., etc. I'm not quite sure how this is supposed to compete with the four rounds of international scientific and governmental review of the IPCC or the rounds of review of the CCSP reports....

They don't even notice the contradictions in their own cites. For instance, they show a figure that demonstrates that galactic cosmic ray and solar trends are non-existent from 1957 on, and yet cheerfully quote Scafetta and West who claim that almost all of the recent trend is solar driven! They claim that climate sensitivity is very small, while failing to realise that this implies that solar variability can't have any effect either. They claim that GCM simulations produced trends over the twentieth century of 1.6-3.74 ºC -- which is simply (and bizarrely) wrong (though with all due respect, that one seems to come directly from Mr. Gregory). Even more curious, Carlin appears to be a big fan of geo-engineering, but how this squares with his apparent belief that we know nothing about what drives climate, is puzzling. A sine qua non of geo-engineering is that we need models to be able to predict what is likely to happen, and if you think they are all wrong, how could you have any faith that you could effectively manage a geo-engineering approach?

Finally, they end up with the oddest claim in the submission: That because human welfare has increased over the twentieth century at a time when CO2 was increasing, this somehow implies that no amount of CO2 increases can ever cause a danger to human society. This is just boneheadly stupid.

From McCullagh's June 26, 2009, article:

The Environmental Protection Agency may have suppressed an internal report that was skeptical of claims about global warming, including whether carbon dioxide must be strictly regulated by the federal government, according to a series of newly disclosed e-mail messages.

Less than two weeks before the agency formally submitted its pro-regulation recommendation to the White House, an EPA center director quashed a 98-page report that warned against making hasty "decisions based on a scientific hypothesis that does not appear to explain most of the available data."


After reviewing the scientific literature that the EPA is relying on, Carlin said, he concluded that it was at least three years out of date and did not reflect the latest research. "My personal view is that there is not currently any reason to regulate (carbon dioxide)," he said. "There may be in the future. But global temperatures are roughly where they were in the mid-20th century. They're not going up, and if anything they're going down."

Carlin's report listed a number of recent developments he said the EPA did not consider, including that global temperatures have declined for 11 years; that new research predicts Atlantic hurricanes will be unaffected; that there's "little evidence" that Greenland is shedding ice at expected levels; and that solar radiation has the largest single effect on the earth's temperature.

Link to post:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Joseph Romm: George Will and WattsUpWithThat embrace a proud former shill for Ken Lay of Enron, a man convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges

George Will and WattsUpWithThat embrace a proud former shill for a man convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, June 28th, 2009

Denial makes strange bedfellows.

Two of the leading sources of anti-scientific disinformation on global warming — George Will and Anthony Watts’ blog WattsUpWithThat — have embraced a man, Robert Bradley, who proudly shilled for Enron CEO Ken Lay, who was convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges in 2006.

Watts and I, you may recall, got into a tiny dustup a couple weeks ago (see Exclusive: New NSIDC director Serreze explains the “death spiral” of Arctic ice, brushes off the “breathtaking ignorance” of blogs like WattsUpWithThat and here). Since then, Watts has been throwing everything at me including the kitchen stink, with four full posts attacking me this month. I was planning to ignore him, until two things happened.

First, Watts ran a truly nonsensical piece (here) by Bradley, who is now President of the Institute for Energy Research, which “has received $307,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998.” Bradley is one of the Denier-Industrial-Complex Kooks (DICKs) — see, for instance, “Mysterious industry front-group affiliated with Ken Lay’s former speechwriter launches anti-Waxman-Markey ads with phony MIT cost figures.”

Second, George Will published a piece, “Tilting at Green Windmills” in which he uses a discredited Spanish “study” to claim clean energy investments don’t create jobs (for debunking by CP and the Regional Minister of Innovation, Enterprise and Employment for the Government of Navarre, see here and here and here). Will’s piece is noteworthy for this remarkable admission:

[This] study was supported by a like-minded U.S. think tank (the Institute for Energy Research, for which this columnist has given a paid speech.

That’s right, George Will published an entire piece based on disinformation bought and paid for by a think tank that is bought and paid for by ExxonMobil and run by Ken Lay’s former top shill — and Will also took money from that think tank. At least editorial page editor Fred Hiatt required that much in return for letting Will publish his umpteenth article full of misleading and inaccurate statements.

Now you may say, wait a minute, Joe, sure Bradley served as Director of Public Policy Analysis at Enron, where he was a speechwriter for CEO Kenneth Lay,” who was “convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges on May 25, 2006″ — but how can you say he proudly shilled for Lay when he has wiped any trace of his connection to Enron from his IER bio here?

Well, I have had the misfortune of knowing Bradley for a long time, since Enron Energy Services (EES) reached out to many leading experts on energy efficiency, and they really liked by book, Cool Companies. Certainly none of the energy efficiency folks were aware of what Enron was doing or they would have quit immediately. I don’t even know if anyone in EES management knew what Ken Lay and his buddies in top management were doing to fraudulently rip-off the public.

And I have no idea whether Bradley knew of the fraudulent activity, but he certainly knew what kind of company he was working for. Over the past several months, Bradley has bombarded me with requests to publish articles about the disinformation he and his IER buddies have written. Just last month he wrote to me and James Hansen:

I wish you (and him) could have been in the Enron government affairs meetings on CO2 trading–we were going to game it to death and make money coming and going. And no one was quaking about the future of global climate.

and before that he wrote to us:

We were going to laugh all the way to the bank with our CO2 trading until the banks said no more laughing–you’re broke. Keep trying Joe–Enron Lives!

As the Biblical Proverb says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Enron does live in on the likes of people like Bradley. That’s why Waxman-Markey has put in many safeguards to protect the public from fraud in the CO2 trading.

Does that mean the system will be free from fraud? Of course not. You can write all the laws you want against fraud and robbery and other crimes, and greedy people who think they are smarter than everyone else will still break the law. The same is true of the tax code — people try to cheat it all the time and some succeed.

But one thing you can certainly say about CO2 trading: The overwhelming majority of CO2 emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels, and flows of natural gas, oil, and coal are very closely tracked in this country, both sales and purchases. So it would be quite hard to engage in significant fraud of the kind that would lead to, say, much higher actual emissions than were being measured and regulated. And as for cornering the market and running up the price of a tradable commodity, an Enron specialty, again, W-M has multiple safeguards to prevent that outcome.

I am not going to waste time here debunking the latest Bradley-Watts attack on me since I have dealt with almost every point in previous posts. It is 100% nonsense, which is it no surprise since it is largely an excerpt from something Roger Pielke, Jr. wrote. But it does contain one unintentionally humorous attack I will address in a later post.

The point is that one shouldn’t have to debunk anything Bradley writes — or anything the Institute for Energy Research has published or supported, including George Will. You just need to consider the source.


34 Responses to “George Will and WattsUpWithThat embrace a proud former shill for a man convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges”

  1. ken levenson Says:

    the right-wingers self-delusion is mercifully loosening its grip on the wider public. how nice to see the climate bill pass -- hopefully we can now ramp-up action fast enough to actually avoid catastrophic climate change.

    I’m beginning to think that the deniers are becoming more irrelevant -- like when all the tabacco executives testified/lied to congress…the game was over.

    Now the issue is that people don’t understand that the horrible effects are not going to wait for generations down the line but are happening here and now and by 2050 we are in for a world of pain.

    And on this point, the paper we love to hate has done it again!!!!!
    With an article on forest fires and beetle destruction…It even had this money quote:

    “But scientists say that recent winters have also lacked the stretches of deep cold — 20 to 40 degrees below zero — that can check the insects’ spread.”

    YET the article never mentions climate change!!!!!! I’m not a conspiracy theorist but I’m starting to wonder…. 2009/ 06/ 28/ us/ 28wildfires.html?_r=1&ref=us

    [JR: Good catch. I'll blog on this Monday.]

Link to Joseph Romm's blog post:

Paul Krugman: Treason Against the Planet

Betraying the Planet

by PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, June 28, 2009
Credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason — treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe — a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable — can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 °F by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 °F. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing — that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves — the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation — may become annual or biannual events.

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?

Yes, it is — and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole — but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Link to article:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Petermann Glacier, Greenland, June 28, 2009

This is a link to one of the MODIS Rapidfire Terra satellite images from June 28, 2009, showing that a large section of the floating tongue of the Petermann Glacier has broken off and then rotated about 180°. It appears that this section usually goes during the summer. "Upstream" on the tongue, cracks have appeared (not visible in this image) some months ago.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Energy Secretary Chu warns of the dangers of climate change, while inspiring hope

Energy Secretary Chu warns of the dangers of climate change, while inspiring hope

by Suzanne Bohan, Contra Costa Times, June 26, 2009

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu warned an audience of 800 at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park on Friday morning that "business as usual" would lead to a dramatically changed world in the coming decades.

During his two-hour talk, similar to one he presented Thursday to executives of the electrical power industry gathered in San Francisco for an annual convention, he described a world with more severe storms and droughts, far more hot summer days exceeding 90 degrees, rising sea levels and species extinctions if carbon emissions aren't markedly scaled back.

At the SLAC event, he spoke easily and candidly to the audience, many of them colleagues from his time at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Stanford University, where he held leadership posts. He seemed to relish the familiarity of both the setting and the many scientists gathered to hear his first address at the physics research lab since Chu became energy secretary hours after President Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.

He was a few minutes late for the speech, Chu said, as that morning he squeezed in a bike ride around "the loop," a well-known local circuit. His two-hour talk was punctuated with broad smiles and occasional jokes.

The subject he was addressing, however, was no laughing matter, he said. While the Energy Department is continuing its historic mission of developing new energy technologies and improving the efficiency of the nation's energy infrastructure, the grave threat posed by a changing climate is "the new 800-pound gorilla in the room," he said.

"Every year for me it gets more alarming," Chu said. "We really need to get moving on this."

Chu focused on a chart from a report released this month from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That report was commissioned by the Bush administration in 2007, and was produced by a consortium of 13 U.S. government science agencies and several universities.

The chart tracked atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over an 800,000-year period, measured from an Antarctic ice core. In it, a red line ranged between 170 to 330 parts per million, or ppm, until present times.

By 2008, that level was 385 ppm, and was attributed to human activities. Without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the line climbed to 900 ppm in 2100. But Chu warned that scientists now believe that atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond 450 ppm will lead to what he called a "tipping" point.

"We're really going off the scales," he said. "That's the scary part, and most people don't understand this in their hearts and souls."

Accompanied by slides showing current signs of climate change, Chu described in detail the consequences of rising temperatures in the coming century. While more rain would likely fall, most of it would come during the winter, and in large downpours, rather than lighter rains spread over weeks or months.

"So we'll have floods in the winter, but when you want to grow things, we'll get less," Chu said. Farmers, particularly in the West, will face conditions worse than those seen in the 1930s Dust Bowl, he said.

Ice sheets are also melting faster than predicted, he said, and scientists are now deeply concerned about the melting permafrost. Long-dead plants sequestered in the frozen ground, with their carbon contained, would release their carbon stores, and the microbes feeding on them release methane, a greenhouse gas hundreds of times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"It could be equal to one-third of all the (atmospheric) carbon dioxide, it could be twice," Chu said.

But his dire warnings were also meant to inspire members of both audiences. Officials with the Edison Electrical Institute, which held its annual convention in San Francisco this week, said the industry group supports the Department of Energy's many initiatives to increase the efficiency of the energy infrastructure, to reduce usage, and to develop new technologies.

And scientists, including those at SLAC, which conducts particle physics and other research, face a critical but doable challenge, he said.

"There are lots of exciting things for people at SLAC to think about, and they have to know it's a solvable problem," Chu said.

He outlined many of the strategies launched by a fresh infusion of federal funding. In California alone, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has funded projects totaling more than $1.1 billion, including Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Lawrence Livermore Lab and SLAC.

He described "smart grid" technology, in which computerized meters and other monitoring equipment would help distribute electrical usage during nonpeak times and increase energy efficiency. A pilot project is underway in the state of Washington, Chu said. He detailed numerous incentives under development for homeowners to increase energy efficiency. And a "geo-engineering" solution of creating white roofs and converting blacktop to light-colored concrete would save 20% in energy costs and deflect most of the solar energy back into space.

An audience member at SLAC asked Chu how he responds to those skeptical of the dangers posed by climate change.

"People are entitled to their own opinion," he responded. "But they're not entitled to their own facts."

He likened accepting the risks of climate change to accepting the risk of fire in a home. Even if there's only a 50% risk that a house is at risk due to bad wiring, for example, "Do you shop around for a structural engineer who will tell say there's no risk, or do you buy more fire insurance?" Chu asked.

"In the end, you're probably going to rewire your house, because the chances are the house will burn down at night while you and your family are in the house," he said.

Link to article:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fred Pearce: Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel -- Methane clathrates in the permafrost

Ice on fire: The next fossil fuel

by Fred Pearce, NewScientist, June 24, 2009

DEEP in the Arctic Circle, in the Messoyakha gas field of western Siberia, lies a mystery. Back in 1970, Russian engineers began pumping natural gas from beneath the permafrost and piping it east across the tundra to the Norilsk metal smelter, the biggest industrial enterprise in the Arctic.

Frozen deposits of energy-rich clathrates could make the Siberian permafrost the new Gulf (Image: Steven Kazlowski/Science Faction/Corbis)

Frozen deposits of energy-rich clathrates could make the Siberian permafrost the new Gulf (Image: Steven Kazlowski/Science Faction/Corbis)

By the late 70s, they were on the brink of winding down the operation. According to their surveys, they had sapped nearly all the methane from the deposit. But despite their estimates, the gas just kept on coming. The field continues to power Norilsk today.

Where is this methane coming from? The Soviet geologists initially thought it was leaking from another deposit hidden beneath the first. But their experiments revealed the opposite -- the mystery methane is seeping into the well from the icy permafrost above.

If unintentionally, what they had achieved was the first, and so far only, successful exploitation of methane clathrate. Made of molecules of methane trapped within ice crystals, this stuff looks like dirty ice and has the consistency of sorbet. Touch it with a lit match, though, and it bursts into flames.

Clathrates are rapidly gaining favour as an answer to the energy crisis. Burning methane emits only half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal, and many countries are seeing clathrates as a quick and easy way of reducing carbon emissions. Others question whether that is wise, and are worried that extracting clathrates at all could have unforeseen and perilous side effects.

Global reserves of methane clathrates. Please click on the graphic to enlarge the details.

If countries and companies are exploring the potential of clathrates only now, that's not for lack of scientific interest over the years. Research over the past two decades has shown that the energy trapped in ice within the permafrost and under the sea rivals that in all oil, coal and conventional gas fields, and could power the world for centuries to come. Oil and gas companies have been slow to catch on, however, believing methane clathrates to be unreliable and uneconomical. Feasibility studies and the diminishing supplies of conventional natural gas are changing that, making commercially viable production realistic within a decade, says Ray Boswell, who heads the clathrates programme at the US Department of Energy.

"Just a few years ago no one was thinking about clathrates as an energy source," Boswell says. "Now there is a great deal of interest in them." It is not just the US. Canada, China and Norway are entering the race too. The governments of Japan and South Korea have given the green light for full-scale production. The first intentional commercial exploitation may come as early as 2015.

So what are methane clathrates, and where do they come from? As with all natural gas, the story starts with rotting plants. As these plants decay, they release methane, which permeates through porous rocks underground. If the conditions where the methane ends up are just right - temperatures close to 0 °C and pressures of roughly 50 atmospheres - ice crystals form that trap the gas in place.

In practice, these conditions mostly occur within and underneath permafrost and beneath the seabed on continental shelves, usually at ocean depths of 200-400 metres, although clathrates have also been known to appear on the seabed. In 2000, a 1-tonne chunk of the stuff was scooped up by fishermen off Vancouver Island in British Columbia. They hastily dumped the hissing mass back into the ocean.

Fishermen scooped up a hissing mass of the stuff -- and hastily dumped it back in the ocean

Until recently, these deposits escaped the serious attention of energy companies. Engineers stumbled on clathrates from time to time while drilling for conventional reserves of oil and gas, but they were mostly viewed as an irritant that caused blowouts or blocked pipelines.

That view changed with studies showing that the gas is often present at a given site in concentrations of 50 per cent or more in ice's pore space -- values similar to the prevalence of natural gas in traditional sources -- in layers of clathrate hundreds of metres thick. What's more, in its constricted surroundings the gas is compressed to 160 times its density at atmospheric temperature and pressure, making for vast quantities of it when released.

These revelations made clathrates a potential gold mine that countries and energy companies are now eagerly prospecting. In 2007, a US project found clathrate reserves in Alaska with 80% of the ice's pore space packed with methane. Tim Collett, a clathrate specialist at the US Geological Survey who was part of the team, says there may be reserves all along the Alaska north slope, including beneath existing oil installations at Prudhoe Bay and, alarmingly for environmentalists, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Collett estimates there is between 0.7 and 4.4 trillion cubic metres of methane clathrate in Alaska alone. Even the low end of that range could heat 100 million homes for a decade. "It's definitely a vast storehouse of energy. But it is still unknown how much of the volume can actually be produced on an industrial scale," he told a meeting of the American Chemical Society at Salt Lake City, Utah, in March this year.

That's not the only reserve of interest. In 2004, a German and Chinese team found methane venting from the seabed off the coast of Taiwan in the South China Sea, and in 2006 Indian researchers found a layer of methane clathrates 130 metres thick off its east coast in an area known as the Krishna-Godavari Basin. Collett calls these "one of the world's richest marine gas clathrate accumulations."

Estimates vary, but conservative figures place global reserves at roughly 3 trillion tonnes of previously untapped carbon -- more than is trapped in all the other known fossil fuel reserves put together, says Klaus Wallmann of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science in Kiel, Germany.

That would last about 1000 years if we continue to use natural gas at the current rate, estimates Collett. Even if the methane from clathrates replaced all fossil fuels, and not just gas, it would still last for at least 100 years. But with this methane held in fragile ice crystals and buried deep within the Earth, can it be exploited safely and economically?

Until recently, there were two methods of extracting methane from clathrates that were considered feasible. One is to drill a hole into the clathrate deposit to release the pressure, allowing the methane to separate out from the clathrate and flow up the wellhead. The second is to warm the clathrate by pumping in steam or hot water, again releasing the methane from its icy matrix.

In 2002, Canadian, American, Japanese, Indian and German researchers tested both techniques in the field, at a drill site called Mallik on the outer extremity of the Mackenzie river delta in the Canadian Arctic. Both were successful, but the energy costs of the heating method nearly outweighed the energy gained from the methane released, making depressurisation the more attractive option.

The potential of depressurisation was confirmed in March 2008, when Canadian engineers led by Scott Dallimore of the Geological Survey of Canada used the technique to tap 20,000 m³ of methane gas over 6 days from a deposit located 1 km beneath Mallik.

Similarly, in 2007, South Korea exploited depressurisation to extract methane clathrate from the Ulleung basin in the Sea of Japan. Officials believe reserves there could meet the country's gas needs for up to 30 years, and they plan to begin production by 2015. Meanwhile Japan, another country with limited fossil fuel reserves, has found up to 50 trillion cubic metres of clathrate south-east of Honshu Island in the Nankai trough -- enough to supply the country with natural gas for centuries. In March 2008, the Japanese cabinet pledged to begin production by 2016.

So methane clathrate extraction seems to be imminent, in Asia at least. Whether it is desirable is another matter. Some argue that the world shouldn't be tapping a new fossil fuel while we are pledging to build a low-carbon economy. Methane might be less carbon intensive than fuels such as coal, but switching to methane would not help countries to reach ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions of up to 80% by 2050.

To make matters worse, the methane itself could exacerbate global warming if it starts leaking from the reserves. Methane is, molecule for molecule, 20 times as powerful at warming the air as CO2. Rising sea temperatures could melt some undersea clathrate reserves even without extraction projects disturbing them, triggering a release of this potent greenhouse gas. A decade ago, Peter Brewer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California, showed how clathrates on the seabed just off the coast of California disappeared after an El Niño event raised ocean temperatures by 1 °C.

Exploitation of clathrate reserves might exacerbate this problem, but it could also have far more immediate adverse effects. Clathrates exist in a delicate balance, and the worry is that as gas is extracted its pressure will break up neighbouring clathrate crystals. The result could be an uncontrollable chain reaction -- a "methane burp" that could cascade through undersea reserves, triggering landslips and even tsunamis. "Extraction increases the risk of large-scale collapses, which might have catastrophic consequences," says Geir Erlsand from the University of Bergen in Norway.

Disturbing the clathrates' delicate balance might unleash an uncontrollable 'methane burp'

Evidence that such events have happened in the past comes from the Storegga slide, a landslip on the seabed off western Norway about 8000 years ago. A 400-km stretch of submarine cliff on the edge of the continental shelf collapsed into the deep ocean, taking with it a staggering 3500 km³ of sediment that spread across an area the size of Scotland. The result would have been a tsunami comparable to the one that devastated parts of southeast Asia in 2004.

The naval researchers who first discovered the remains of the slide in 1979 assumed it was the result of an earthquake. Perhaps it was initially, but Jürgen Mienert of the University of Tromsø in Norway has found that the slumped area was also a hotspot for methane clathrates. The sheer number of cracks and giant pockmarks on the seabed, carbon-dated to the time of the slide, suggest billions of tonnes of methane must have burst out of the cliff along with the sediment, a possible trigger for the landslip. The resulting explosions would have turned even a minor slip into a major disaster.

Sinking carbon

The Storegga slide is not the only incident of this kind. The ocean floor from Storegga to Svalbard is full of pockmarks that might have been caused by similar clathrate-driven landslides, says Mienert. He says we will see more of these events in the future. "Global warming will cause more blowouts and more craters and more releases," he warns.

Other engineers believe claims that clathrate extraction poses a risk are little more than scare stories with little supporting evidence. Wallmann claims that the Chinese and Indians in particular are "afraid that the West wants to prevent them from rapid extraction of methane clathrate."

There might in fact be a safer way of tapping clathrates which, if successful, could quash the criticisms. Since other gases can also form clathrates, it should be possible to pump one of these gases into the crystals to displace the methane. Carbon dioxide would be an ideal candidate, says Ersland -- the resulting crystal is even more stable than methane clathrate, meaning another greenhouse gas would be stored out of harm's way.

Ersland has already demonstrated his technique in the lab. In joint research with the energy company ConocoPhillips based in Houston, Texas, he replaced methane with CO2 in artificial clathrate crystals. The exchange was rapid and did not damage the clathrate structure, making it the safest way to extract the methane yet found (Chemical Engineering Journal, DOI: 10.1016/j.cej.2008.12.028). Substituting methane with CO2 "will increase the stability of the reservoir sediments as well as maintaining the clathrates in their solid state," Ersland says.

The acid test will be an experiment planned for January next year. ConocoPhillips intends to pour liquefied CO2 down a borehole into the Alaskan north slope's clathrate deposit. If all goes well, the CO2 will fill the clathrate crystals and the displaced methane will shoot up the wellhead to the surface. The method could be both a safe way of capturing the methane and an environmental argument for pursuing the goal -- the clathrate structures would be acting as a carbon sink.

It is an intriguing possibility. Sooner rather than later, burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas will only be acceptable if the CO2 emissions are captured and stored. Right now, there is a rush to develop a practical system for capturing and burying billions of tonnes of CO2 underground per year.

So far, the focus has been on old oil wells, salt deposits and even old coal mines. The big problem is that the huge infrastructure required to dispose of the CO2 may quickly make burning fossil fuels uneconomic compared with alternatives like solar, wind or nuclear power. Disposing of CO2 down the same pipe used to bring up more fuel could be the answer.

Fred Pearce is an environment consultant for New Scientist.

Link to article:

Ozone hole has unforeseen effect on ocean carbon sink in the Southern Ocean

Ozone hole has unforeseen effect on ocean carbon sink

by Kate Ravilious, NewScientist, June 26, 2009

The Southern Ocean has lost its appetite for carbon dioxide, and now it appears that the ozone hole could be to blame.

The Antarctic ozone hole (Image: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / SVS)

The Antarctic ozone hole (Image: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / SVS)

In theory, oceans should absorb more CO2 as levels of the gas in the atmosphere rise. Measurements show that this is happening in most ocean regions, but strangely not in the Southern Ocean, where carbon absorption has flattened off. Climate models fail to reproduce this puzzling pattern.

The Southern Ocean is a major carbon sink, guzzling around 15% of CO2 emissions. However, between 1987 and 2004, carbon uptake in the region was reduced by nearly 2.5 billion tonnes – equivalent to the amount of carbon that all the world's oceans absorb in one year.

Premature effect

To figure out what is going on, Andrew Lenton, from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, France, and his colleagues created a coupled ocean and atmosphere climate model, to investigate carbon absorption in oceans. Crucially, they included changes in the concentration of stratospheric ozone since 1975.

By running their model with and without the ozone depletion since 1975, Lenton and his colleagues were able to show that the ozone hole is responsible for the Southern Ocean's carbon saturation.

The effect could be down to the way decreasing stratospheric ozone and rising greenhouse gases are altering the radiation balance of the Earth's atmosphere. This has been predicted to alter and strengthen the westerly winds that blow over the Southern Ocean.

"We expected this transition to a windier regime, but it has occurred much earlier than we thought, seemingly because of the ozone hole," says Lenton.

'Unexpected effect'

Stronger surface winds enhance circulation of ocean waters, encouraging carbon-rich waters to rise from the deep, limiting the capability of surface water to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Furthermore, the higher carbon levels in surface waters make them more acidic – bad news for many forms of ocean life, such as coral and squid.

"This result illustrates how complex the chain of cause and effect can be in the Earth system. No one would ever have predicted from first principles that increasing CFCs would have the effect of decreasing uptake of ocean carbon dioxide," says Andrew Watson, from the University of East Anglia, U.K.

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters (DOI: 10.1029/2009GL038227)

Link to article:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

James E. Hansen: Coal River Mountain Action -- Bravo Hansen!!!

Coal River Mountain Action

Several people asked for more information about the 23 June civil disobedience near Coal River Mountain. We need Dickens to describe the local situation, but you can glean something from the first attachment (“June 23 Declaration”), a statement I was reading at the time we were arrested. Local pollution effects and regional environmental destruction should be enough to stop the practice of mountaintop removal. Vernon Haltom, head of Coal River Mountain Watch, provided the details therein. Email contact for the office is Website is They can make good use of any support.

The bigger picture, including climate change, makes it clear that mountaintop removal, providing only 7 percent of United States coal, makes no strategic sense whatever. Better leave the coal holding up the mountains. The second attachment has the remarks I made at the rally. There has to be some leadership from the top. We cannot continue to give President Obama a pass on this much longer. On the other hand, he needs broad support in order to do what is right.

As for the local people, we found them to be very friendly, and the state police were courteous and professional. Massey employees were out in force making as much noise as possible to try to drown out the speakers at the protest. If Gandhi had the sequence right (first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win), we are already three-quarters of the way there. I noticed that it was only a handful of Massey people who were really vocal.

But that’s not to say that it isn’t a dangerous situation for the local people who oppose mountaintop removal – they are the courageous ones. Some barrel-chested noise-makers seemed pretty close to going over the edge. One of the Massey wives assaulted (sucker- punched) Julia Bonds, Goldman Prize winner for North America and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch. I went up the mountain with Larry Gibson, who refuses to sell his property, which includes a 200-year-old cemetery containing scores of his relatives. He has been the target of drive-by shootings as recently as last week, and I saw two bullet holes in the side of his house.

The FBI should be investigating. On the way down the mountain some thick-necked Massey employees gave us a vigorous one-finger salute – but others a friendly nod on passing. Larry mentioned that when Bobby Kennedy Jr. looked at the scalped mountain he said “if any foreign nation had done this to us, we would have declared war on them.” Instead what we have in Washington is (coal-fired) Senators who advocate for the abominable practice.

Don Blankenship, Massey CEO and seemingly a role model for a few of his employees, suggested he would like to “debate” me about global warming. I agreed to a discussion in which I could make a presentation (of order 40 minutes) of the science, he would have as much time (before or after), followed by discussion and interaction including audience. Mountain State University eagerly agreed to provide the auditorium. It seemed fool-proof, because if Blankenship failed to show, I could give a bit longer talk and have discussion with the audience.

But, after I got a room in Beckley, staying an extra day, Blankenship decided he would only do a debate in a television studio with his favorite moderator. When Mountain State University learned what Blankenship wishes were, they withdrew permission to use their auditorium. I turned on the television news and heard: Blankenship offered to have a discussion with me, but “Dr. Hansen was still trying to check his schedule” – this was a television station that knew exactly what had actually happened. It seems that even the media is owned by coal.

When the strategic interest of the nation and the world is so clear, can a few gluttons with a few bucks really drive our policy? Does this great country not have better leadership than that? Op-ed on mountaintop removal is at

June 23 Declaration

When, in the course of their lives, people find they are being abused by those in position of power, and their children and their children’s future are being damaged by those in power, it is the right of the people, and their sacred duty, to resist those in position of power and fight for the well-being of the young and the unborn..

First, we believe that no child’s health and safety are expendable for the expediency of a dirty energy source. Marsh Fork Elementary stands as the prime example of just how far this country has gone to support its addiction to coal, and just how far Massey Energy will go to support its profit margin. The West Virginia Supreme Court has joined Governor Manchin in turning their backs on these children, subjecting them to expanded operations within 300 feet of the school, in clear violation of the law’s intent to protect the children. According to Massey’s own documents, the second coal silo and associated operations will add over three tons of coal dust to the air the children breathe every school year during their most formative years.

Therefore, we demand that Massey withdraw plans to build the second silo within 300 feet of Marsh Fork.

Second, even without the second silo, the children’s health is still at risk from the coal dust they already breathe. In addition, Massey subjects the children to the daily threat of a 2.8 billion gallon sludge dam only 400 yards upstream. Massey’ 2,000-acre mountaintop removal site, with multiple violations, drains into the sludge dam and also subjects the children to dust. Community members have for years demanded a safe, new school in the children’s own community. The hard-working taxpayers of the community did not create this unhealthy situation—Massey did.

Therefore, we demand that Massey fund the building of a new school at a safe location in the children’s own community.

Third, mountaintop removal destroys opportunities for sustainable economic development. On Coal River Mountain, Massey has applied for permits to remove over ten square miles of a ridge
that has excellent commercial wind potential. This action would lower the mountain enough to remove this important economic opportunity. Wind energy here would also provide a source of electricity that does not put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby helping to prevent the worst effects of the global climate crisis.

Therefore, we demand that Massey withdraw its permits on Coal River Mountain in order to facilitate the Coal River Wind Project, which would provide a permanent source of clean energy and jobs.

Fourth, mountaintop removal destroys the life-giving water supplies that are essential to viable communities and sustainable livelihoods. As we have been again reminded in recent months, mountaintop removal subjects communities to greater risk of devastating floods. Instead of continuing to destroy mountains, Massey workers could be employed for decades minimizing the damage that has already been done. To begin this important task, Massey must not destroy one more acre of the mountains. Mountaintop removal exacerbates dependence on coal, which is largely responsible for fueling the global climate crisis. We must take immediate steps to transition away from coal as a source of electricity.

Therefore, we demand that Massey stop conducting mountaintop removal operations.

We hold it self evident that these demands are just, feasible, and essential. No job or profit margin justifies Massey’s ongoing threats to the community by mountaintop removal.

Coal River Mountain
(Statement of Jim Hansen at 23 June 2009 rally)

Mountaintop removal ignites strong passions because local effects are obvious – pollution of air and water, effects on human health, destruction of the environment.

But another effect of coal mining, global climate change, will become important in the next few decades. Climate change will have large consequences for people who are alive today, especially children, and future generations.

President Obama speaks of “a planet in peril” for good reason. If we do not move rapidly to carbon-free energy, we will hand our children a planet that has passed climate tipping points. It will be a more desolate planet, with half or more species committed to extinction.

Burning all fossil fuels would destroy the future of young people and the unborn. Coal is the critical issue. Coal is the main cause of climate change. It is also the dirtiest fossil fuel. Air pollution, arsenic, and mercury from coal have devastating effects on human health and cause birth defects.

The science is clear. We must have a moratorium on new coal plants and phase out existing ones within the next 20 years. We should start with termination of mountaintop removal now. Coal from mountaintop removal provides only 7% of United States coal, less than the amount of coal that we export.

Why is the Administration not stopping mountaintop removal? Why do they advocate halfway measures? Because of the political clout of coal in Washington, that’s why. But coal did not elect Obama. Who helped Obama win the Iowa primary? Not coal, it was young people. Who got out the vote in the general election – it was young people – young people who had hope – hope that we could have leaders who do the right thing, not what is politically expedient.

We must raise the pressure to do what is right – for our children and the planet – not for the wallets of the few. Continued mountaintop removal defeats the purpose of the administration’s effort to fight climate change.

And mountaintop removal poisons water supplies and pollutes the air. Coal ash piles are so toxic and unstable that Homeland Security has declared that the location of the nation’s 44 most hazardous coal ash sites must be kept secret. They fear terrorists will find ways to spill the toxic substances. But storms and heavy rain can do the same.

President Obama remains the best hope, perhaps the only hope, for real change. If the President used his influence, his eloquence, his bully pulpit, he could be the agent of real change. But he needs our help to overcome the political realities of compromise.

Politicians may choose to advocate for halfway measures. But it is our responsibility to make sure our representatives feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not what some judge as “winnable.”

We must make clear to Congress, to EPA, to the Obama administration that we the people want mountaintop removal terminated and we want a move toward rapid phase-out of coal emissions. The time for half measures and caving in to polluting industries is over. It is time for citizens to demand – yes, we can.

Link to pdf file:

Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS) - September Sea Ice Outlook: June Report

Hat tip to reader Fred Thu of France for this post:

Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS)

Study of Environmental Arctic Change

September Sea Ice Outlook: June Report

Report Released: 24 June 2009



On 15 May 2009, a request was sent to the contributors of the 2008 Sea Ice Outlook and the broader arctic sea ice community to provide an estimate of mean September 2009 sea ice extent based on May 2009 data. We are pleased to welcome three new groups making contributions. Responses were received by the first week in June. Additional information about the Outlook can be found on the background page.

Approach and Disclaimer

The Sea Ice Outlook provides a forum for researchers to evaluate their understanding of the state of arctic sea ice and for the community to jointly assess a range of factors that contribute to arctic summer sea ice minima. The Sea Ice Outlook is not a formal consensus forecast or prediction for arctic sea ice extent, nor is it intended as a replacement for existing efforts or centers with operational responsibility.


With 15 responses, half represent a mean September Outlook extent estimate of 4.9–5.0 million square kilometers. The remaining estimates had a range of 4.2–4.7 million square kilometers (Figure 1). As in 2008, the individual responses were based on a range of methods: statistical, numerical models, comparison with previous observations and rates of ice loss, or composites of several approaches; details can be found in the individual outlooks available at the end of this report. The range of estimates for September 2009 sea ice extent is rather narrow, at least compared to the contributions from the 2008 Outlook. Further, the values of uncertainty estimates, from those groups which provide them, are close to 0.5 million square kilometers. Thus, many 2009 Outlook estimates overlap with a consensus value near persistence with the 2008 September mean sea ice extent.

June Report
{Click the image for expanded view}

Figure 1. Distribution of individual outlook values for September 2009 sea ice extent.

Review of Lessons from 2008

There was a general agreement between Outlook projections and observations in the 2008 effort. The median projected September ice extent from the 2008 May Outlook was 4.2 million square kilometers; the observed 2008 value was 4.7 million square kilometers. These numbers compare to a 1979–2007 climatological mean extent of 6.7 million square kilometers. Moreover, the 2008 Sea Ice Outlook provided a successful forum for community synthesis, an important first step toward better understanding arctic sea ice loss. There was enthusiasm for the project from the larger arctic and climate communities.

A considerable amount of insight was gained from comparing 2007 and 2008 sea ice conditions and the oceanic and meteorological forcing over these summers. A year ago it was uncertain as to whether most first-year sea ice would continue to melt out every year as in 2005 and 2007 (work by Ron Kwok presented at the Outlook Workshop in March 2009). It seems, however, that in years like 2008 with more normal meteorological summer conditions compared to 2007, it is rather difficult for all the first-year sea ice to melt out near the North Pole (see comments by Stroeve et al., number 3 below). Don Perovich reports that based on ice mass-balance buoys, there was increased bottom melt in regions of low ice concentration such as the Beaufort Sea in both 2007 and 2008. These distributed buoys will be of interest as we move into the 2009 melt season. Initial conditions in May, and especially the 40% loss of multi-year sea ice in the last four years, suggest that that it will be difficult for the sea ice to return to extents of the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, the 2008 Outlooks were correct in estimating sea ice extent well below that of climatology, but some overestimated the amount of first-year sea ice melt back (see comments by the Canadian Ice Service, number 13 below). Model results also suggest that the summer meteorology needs to be supportive as in 2007 to sustain a substantial additional September sea ice loss.

Late Spring 2009 Conditions

With regards to initial conditions for May 2009, Figure 2 from Nghiem et al. shows the map of sea ice classes derived from QuikSCAT. Their full abstract is added as Appendix 1. Although fall 2008 had almost 50% more multiyear sea ice than fall 2007, on 1 May 2009, the perennial ice extent had been reduced to 2.1 million square kilometers, which is virtually equivalent to the 2.2 million square kilometers of perennial ice extent on 1 May 2008. The sea ice on the Eurasian side of the North Pole is primarily second-year sea ice remaining from summer 2008; indications are that part of this sea ice exited Fram Strait under the influence of a more positive Arctic Oscillation climate pattern in winter and spring 2009. Figure 2 also suggests regions of earlier than normal melt. Christian Haas and Stefan Hendricks, based on aircraft supported measurements, show continued thick sea ice north of Canada and Greenland. Their results are further presented as Appendix 2. A third set of information is from the Catlin Arctic Survey near 130° W as far north as 85.5° N. Preliminary results suggest that the spatial extent of the thicker multi-year ice is reduced compared with expectations from backscatter data and that the distribution of sea ice types has shifted, favoring both old and young sea ice. More information is available at


Figure 2. Arctic sea ice distribution for perennial ice (white), mixed ice (aqua), seasonal ice (teal), ice with a current melting surface (red), and ice with a melted surface within the previous ten days (magenta). The extent of perennial ice was about the same on 1 May 2009 and 1 May 2008, although there is more second year ice in 2009, due to more ice surviving the summer of 2008. The springtime perennial ice extent was the lowest in 2008, as observed by QuikSCAT data in the decade of the 2000s and by the buoy-based estimates in the last half-century. The rapid reduction rate and the temporal characteristics of this winter and spring are similar to 2007 when the drastic decrease of perennial ice preconditioned the record low of the total ice extent in summer 2007. Credit: Nghiem et al.


Figure 3. The graph above shows daily sea ice extent as of 2 June 2009. The solid blue line indicates 2009; the dashed green line shows 2007; and the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000. The gray area around the 1979–2000 average line shows the standard deviation range of the data. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

The National Snow and Ice Center (NSIDC) ( noted that although the 2009 melt season started slowly, the pace of sea ice loss quickened through May (Figure 3).

Thus, we can summarize that there is nothing in the arctic sea ice conditions at the end of May that would preclude a major sea ice loss year by September. From the lessons learned by contrasting the meteorology of 2008 with 2007 and from the ensemble runs of the two projects that ran numerical sea ice models with multiple historical years of meteorological forcing, there are many ways (cold followed by warm or warm followed by cold, for example) to arrive at a near average summer forcing with respect to the September sea ice extent. However, there are only a few ways of sustaining three months of forcing favoring ice retreat such as in 2007.

Our Russian colleague (Oleg Pokrovsky, number 4 below) suggests that the greater area of the North Pacific may be turning warm again after a string of cold years. The response is complex. Cold years in the greater Pacific support winds, which in fact were favorable for Pacific arctic sea, ice loss. The sea ice extent in winter and spring 2009 in the Pacific arctic sector has been locally above normal. Both of these factors—local cold temperatures and warmer temperatures farther away—would delay an early sea ice melt. The North Pole Environmental Observatory web camera shows no indication of surface melt well into the third week in June. The NSIDC site notes the warm May throughout the Arctic.

These considerations seem to be reflected in the narrow range of contributions to the 2009 Sea Ice Outlook: reduced sea ice initial conditions at the end of May compared to climatology combined with mean summer meteorological forcing—given the predictive uncertainty in those quantities—suggest persistence or a slight increase in extent in 2009 compared to 2008. However, given the May sea ice state, it is not unreasonable to give a small but important probability of a major sea ice loss event in summer 2009, as noted by the Kauker (number 2 below) and National Ice Center (NIC, number 5 below) groups who provide probability distribution estimates.

More water vapor in the atmosphere = more rainfall, duh! Tiger Woods affected!

U.S. Open at Bethpage Black hit by “global warming type” of record rainfall — Tiger Woods falls victim to a bad draw and bad putting

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, posted 24 Jun 2009 06:07 PM PDT

They called this year’s U.S. Open “Bathpage.”

And yes, Tiger Woods lost, even though I called him an “all-climate player” after he won “the brown British Open” at drought-stricken Royal Liverpool in 2006 and the “Hottest Major of All Time.” In fact, I had predicted “No doubt he’ll some day win the ‘wettest major of all time,’ too” — but a bad draw and bad putting thwarted him, as I’ll discuss at the end.

And this was a bath. As Newsday reported Thursday evening about the rainsoaked first day,

The golf-hating storm system that soaked the U.S. Open tournament in Farmingdale Thursday broke records for the date in Long Island and New York City, continuing a streak that may make this one of the wettest Junes on record, according to the National Weather Service….

“If this keeps up, New York City could see its rainiest June”….

A weather station at Long Island MacArthur Airport recorded 1.53 inches by 8 p.m., beating its previous record of 1.44 inches.

The 2.26 inches that fell at Kennedy Airport shattered the record of 1.49 inches set in 1972.

I’m going to borrow and modify a term from the scientific literature and call this a “global-warming-type” deluge — see Must-have PPT: The “global-change-type drought” and the future of extreme weather. After all, this type of extreme downpour is precisely what climate science projects would happen when you put more water vapor into the air. And it is precisely what major peer-reviewed studies have shown the United States has been experiencing in the past few decades (see Why the “never seen before” Fargo flooding is just what you’d expect from global warming, as Obama warns):

In 2004, the Journal of Hydrometeorology published an analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center that found “Over the contiguous United States, precipitation, temperature, streamflow, and heavy and very heavy precipitation have increased during the twentieth century.”

They found (here) that over the course of the 20th century, the “Cold season (October through April),” saw a 16% increase in “heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 2 inches [when it comes as rain] in one day), and a 25% increase in “very heavy” precipitation events (roughly greater than 4 inches in one day)– and a 36% rise in “extreme” precipitation events (those in the 99.9% percentile — 1 in 1000 events). This rise in extreme precipitation is precisely what is predicted by global warming models in the scientific literature.

In fact, the last few decades have seen rising extreme precipitation over the United States in the historical record, according to NCDC’s Climate Extremes Index (CEI):

An increasing trend in the area experiencing much above-normal proportion of heavy daily precipitation is observed from about 1950 to the present.

Here is a plot of the percentage of this country (times two) with much greater than normal proportion of precipitation derived from extreme 1-day precipitation events (where extreme equals the highest tenth percentile of deluges, click to enlarge):


Didn’t know that our government kept a Climate Extremes Index? Why would you? The media never writes about it.

The U.S. Climate Extremes Index was explicitly created to take a complicated subject (”multivariate and multidimensional climate changes in the United States“) and make it more easily understood by American citizens and policy makers. As far back as 1995, analysis by the National Climatic Data Center showed that over the course of the 20th century, the United States had suffered a statistically significant increase in a variety of extreme weather events, the very ones you would expect from global warming, such as more — and more intense — precipitation. That analysis concluded the chances were only “5 to 10 percent” this increase was due to factors other than global warming, such as “natural climate variability.” And since 1995, the climate has gotten much more extreme.

Characteristically, Roger Pielke, Jr. tried to smear the integrity of the authors of the recent landmark NOAA-led interagency report on US climate impacts — see “Why do deniers like Pielke shout down any talk of a link between climate change and extreme weather?” — while asserting that “those wanting a more rounded picture of extremes in the United States” should read the Bush Administration’s 2008 report, “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate.”

I think that is a great idea (see “Sorry, deniers: Even U.S gov says human emissions are changing the climate“). But whatever you do, don’t read Pielke’s absurdly cherry-picked synopsis. Read the actual report, whose conclusions are the exact opposite of what “political” scientist Pielke claims. Indeed, this report is really an “I told you so” from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and Tom Karl in particular, who has been a real leader in this area, helping to create the still rarely-discussed Climate Extremes Index (see “Global warming causes deluges and flooding, just like the Midwest is seeing (again).”

If you don’t read the whole report, at least read the synopsis:

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate.

Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

Current and future impacts resulting from these changes depend not only on the changes in extremes, but also on responses by human and natural systems.

So yes, there is a strong link between climate change, which is now predominantly driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, and the rise in many different type of extreme weather events — and that rise will accelerate in the future and the link will grow. Until, of course, the climate just changes, and in many regions we stop using the word drought, and use the word Dust Bowl — assuming that we aren’t smart enough to ignore the siren song of the deniers and solve this problem.

One final note on golf and Tiger Woods. Of all the major sports, golf is arguably most subject to the whims of weather. In the 2009 Open, the golfers in the first draw, like Tiger, played the first part of their round in the deluge, while those in the second part of the draw didn’t even have to go outside at all. As WP sports report Tom Boswell wrote in his piece, “It’s Not How You Play, But When You Play“:

Let’s use Mickelson and Woods to illustrate the fate of those in opposite halves of this Open draw. On Thursday, Tiger rose at dawn for an early tee time, played six holes in swampy conditions and a steady rain, constantly changing in and out of a rainproof jacket. The day’s play was suspended at 10:15, so he had to finish his round on Friday, beginning at 7:30 a.m. He bogeyed the last two holes for 74. From the whole morning group, only two players shot 69. And the lowest score by a major champion was 71.

In contrast, Mickelson said, “I never even had to come to the course on Thursday. I watched a movie — “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.” Then he teed off at a pleasant 11:06 a.m. on Friday. About that time, the clouds parted and Bethpage became Bermuda. In one beautiful nine-hour stretch of sun, soft greens and mild breeze — in the midst of what may turn out to be the wettest and most miserable Open ever — Phil and a bunch of lucky stiffs got to play their entire first round and as much of their second round as they could complete before the sun set. It was like watching a land rush as players fired for defenseless limp flags at dusk.

Mickelson tied for second at 2 under par. Tiger finished at even par, 4 strokes back of the leader, who won at 4 under.

The golfers in the second draw had on average a two stroke advantage compared to the golfers in the first draw in just the first round. I believe Tiger is the only golfer in the first draw who even finished at par or better — none of the others in his draw could even overcome that disadvantage. Now Tiger lost by 4 strokes. Had he been in the second draw, and everyone else on the leaderboard been in the deluge draw, then he probably would have done no worse than tie for first. Indeed, Boswell writes:

It’s hard to prove exactly how many strokes this extreme example of the luck of the draw provided. But it’s fun to try. The difference in scoring average between the two groups was 1.89 shots in the first round. Since all the leaders played at least nine to 12 holes at dusk under even calmer conditions, you can probably add another shot of advantage. However, at the top of the leader board, where it matters most, the gap may be even greater. The average score of the six lowest players in the morning group was 70.33 vs. 66.50 for the six lowest in the afternoon group. So, a five-shot draw-and-weather advantage for this Open winner seems plausible.

Again, the draw may have cost Tiger the win.

But for anyone who watched the tournament, Tiger had his chances and didn’t seize them, especially with his putter. The fact that he outperformed everybody else in his draw and finished 4 off the leader makes clear he remains the best golfer in the world. But had he played like the greatest golfer of all time, which he is and which he usually does, he probably would have won this tournament anyway, in spite of the bad luck of the draw.

He remains the all-climate player.

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