Blog Archive

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Alun Hubbard and Jason Box: Greenland ice sheet research -- expedition aboard sailing vessel Gambo

This is a great video from 2009, still completely relevant:

Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic

Gpkgyj67-1349405231Methane locked under the Arctic ice could take climate change to a whole new level. Antonio Delgado Huertas 

by Antonio Delgado Huertas, The Conversation, October 17, 2012

The risk with climate change is not with the direct effect of humans on the greenhouse capacity of Earth’s atmosphere. The major risk is that the relatively modest human perturbation will unleash much greater forces. The likelihood of this risk is intimately tied to the developments over the next decade in the Arctic. Accelerating ice loss and warming of the Arctic is disturbing evidence that dangerous climate change is already with us. As I have argued earlier, now that we have realised this our efforts should be directed at managing the situation in the Arctic and avoiding the spread of dangerous climate change elsewhere.

The Arctic is a core component of the earth system. Six of the 14 climate change tipping points of the earth system are located in the Arctic region.
Whereas the term tipping point was initially introduced to the climate change debate in a metaphoric manner, it has since been formalised and introduced in the context of systems exhibiting rapid, climate-driven change, such as the Arctic. Tipping points have been defined in the context of earth system science as the critical point in forcing at which the future state of the system is qualitatively altered.
Tipping elements are defined, accordingly, as the structural components of the system directly responsible for triggering abrupt changes once a tipping point is passed. This is because they can be switched into a qualitatively different state by small perturbations.

Of the many tipping elements in the Arctic, that with potentially greatest consequences if perturbed is the vast methane deposit. Methane is a greenhouse gas. A molecule of methane has 20 times the greenhouse effect of a CO₂ molecule, and the release of methane has been linked to climatic transitions along the history of planet Earth.
The Arctic contains vast reserves of methane stored as methane hydrate, a gel-like substance formed by methane molecules trapped in frozen water. The methane hydrate deposits are estimated at between 1,000 and 10,000 Gigatons (109 tons) of CO₂-equivalents as methane, much of which is present in the shallow sediments of the extensive Arctic shelves. This amount of greenhouse gas is several times the total CO₂ release since the industrial revolution.
Even moderate (a few degrees C) warming of the overlying waters may change the state of methane from hydrates to methane gas, which would be released to the atmosphere. If this release is gradual, methane will add a greenhouse effect to the atmosphere. This will only be temporary, as it will be oxidised to CO₂, with a decline in the greenhouse effect of 20-fold per unit carbon.
However, if the state shift is abrupt it may lead to a massive release of methane to the atmosphere, which could cause a climatic jump several-fold greater than the accumulated effect of anthropogenic activity.

Data collected on a recent cruise confirm methane is being emitted. Antonio Delgado Huertas

Recent assessments have found bubbling of methane on the Siberian shelf. Models suggest that global warming of 3 °C could release between 35 and 94 Gt C of methane, which could add up to an additional 0.5 °C of global warming. Moreover, frozen soils and sediments contain large amounts of methane hydrates that can be released to the atmosphere. Indeed, rapid thawing of the Arctic permaforst has been reported to lead to the release of large amounts of methane.
In our most recent cruise this summer (June 2012) along the Fram Strait and Svalbard Islands we found concentrations of methane in the atmosphere of about 1.65 ppm. However our equilibrium experiments (air atmospheric with Arctic surface water) reached values that were generally between 2.5 ppm and 10 ppm, with maximum values up to 35 ppm. These results confirm that this area of the planet is emitting large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.
Understanding and forecasting the response of Arctic methane hydrate deposits to rapid warming and thawing in the Arctic is of the utmost importance.
Provided the magnitude of these risks, and those associated with other tipping elements in the Arctic, our collective response to climate change appears to be a careless walk on the razor edge.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Keystone XL: Public interest groups call for Sec. Kerry to throw out tainted environmental study, take disciplinary action against consultants who lied about ties to TransCanada

from Friends of the Earth, July 29, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline today asked Secretary John Kerry to throw out the State Department’s environmental review of the proposed tar sands pipeline because consultants in charge of the review lied about conflicts of interests, including working for TransCanada, the company behind the planned pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The coalition of environmental, religious and public interest groups is also calling for the State Department to ban Environmental Resources Management from future federal contracts because of their false statements about its business dealings with TransCanada and oil companies with a direct stake in whether Keystone gets built.
In a letter to Secretary Kerry, 29 groups, including The Checks & Balances Project, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, said the State Department's Office of the Inspector General must pursue a full investigation into how ERM was hired to write the environmental impact statement for the pipeline, despite its extensive work with TransCanada and other oil companies who will benefit from Keystone XL's construction. 
"The public expects the State Department to perform a transparent and independent review of this project’s impacts on the environment and the global climate before the decision reaches President Obama’s desk," the groups said. "It is critical that the report on which the administration’s decision will rely on be free of any taint of impropriety or conflict of interest."
They presented evidence that ERM lied on its conflict of interest disclosure form when it said it had "no existing contract or working relationship with TransCanada." In fact ERM has been involved since at least 2011 in the Alaska Pipeline Project, a joint venture of TransCanada and ExxonMobil. 
ERM lied again when it certified that it did not have a "direct or indirect relationship ... with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work." In fact, ERM's own public documents show that since 2009 the London-based firm has worked for more than a dozen of the largest energy companies with stakes in the Canadian tar sands, including ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Total and Syncrude.
The groups said the State Department violated its own conflict of interest screening guidelines, issued by the inspector general last year after members of Congress complained that the previous Keystone environmental review was plagued by bias and conflicts of interest. Earlier this month a State Department spokeswoman admitted to Postmedia News of Canada that State did not try to verify whether ERM was telling the truth when it certified that it had no business ties to TransCanada. 
The groups urged Secretary Kerry to:
  • Fire ERM and disqualify it from future federal contracts.
  • Start the environmental review process over with a new contractor that complies with the Federal Acquisition Regulation regarding conflicts of interest.
  • Order an inspector general's investigation to determine "how a contractor with clear conflicts of interest was allowed to write the U.S. government's assessment of Keystone XL, and why the State Department has so far failed to bring those conflicts of interest to light." 
The environmental impact statement will inform President Obama's decision, expected soon, on whether to issue a construction permit for the pipeline. In his climate speech last month and in a New York Times interview this past weekend, the president said the pipeline should go forward only if it does not significantly worsen carbon pollution. The fossil fuel consultant, ERM, claimed in its draft environmental review that building the pipeline would not significantly increase carbon emissions -- contrary to the conclusions of mainstream scientists, environmental groups and the EPA. 
The coalition of groups includes:, Bold Nebraska, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for International Environmental Law, Checks & Balances Project, Common Cause, CREDO, DeSmogBlog, DeSmog Canada, Earthworks, Energy Action Coalition, Environment America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends of the Earth, The Good Life Alliance, Green for All, Greenpeace, Hip Hop Caucus, League of Conservation Voters, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Civic Action, National Nurses United, National Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Farmers Union, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and The Other 98%
Ross Hammond, Friends of the Earth, (415) 559-5082,
Gabe Elsner, Checks & Balances Project, (202) 368-5042,
Eddie Scher, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5758,

Monday, July 29, 2013

Terry McAuliffe runs campaign ad showing Ken Cuccinelli's witch hunt against Michael Mann

by Peter Sinclair, Climate Denial Crock of the Week, July 29, 2013


Further underlining Climate Change’s maturation as a potent political issue – a new ad in the Virginia Governor's race features GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s crazed fixation on persecution of climate scientist Mike Mann.

Washington Post:
RICHMOND — The newest TV ad in the Virginia governor’s race focuses on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II’s legal battle with a University of Virginia climate scientist. 
Titled “Witch Hunt,” the commercial recalls a two-year effort by Cuccinelli, the GOP nominee for governor and a climate change skeptic, to obtain records from Michael Mann, then a U-Va. researcher. 
The campaign of Terry McAuliffe, Cuccinelli’s Democratic rival, released the ad Monday. It declined to say where it will run and for how long. 
“It’s been called ‘Cuccinelli’s witch hunt.’ ‘Designed to intimidate and suppress,’ ” a narrator for the 30-second spot says, quoting newspaper editorials from the time. 
“Ken Cuccinelli used taxpayer funds to investigate a U-Va. professor whose research on climate change Cuccinelli opposed. Cuccinelli, a climate change denier, forced the university to spend over half a million dollars defending itself against its own attorney general. Ken Cuccinelli — he’s focused on his own agenda, not us.” 
The ad is part of McAuliffe’s broader strategy to portray himself as a business-oriented moderate and Cuccinelli as someone outside the mainstream on a range of cultural issues. The opening image of the ad shows McAuliffe sitting at table, having a seemingly productive discussion with others gathered there. 
In 2010, Cuccinelli issued a civil investigative demand — essentially a subpoena — for grant applications and correspondence exchanged among Mann, research assistants, and scientists around the country. He based that demand on a 2002 state law designed to combat government employees defrauding the public of tax dollars. Cuccinelli said he was trying to investigate if Mann had, while seeking grants to study climate change, had used manipulated data to show that there has been a recent spike rise in the Earth’s temperature.
The story became national news as part of a broad campaign by right wing science denial groups to intimidate, spy on, and persecute scientists whose research ran counter to fossil fuel and other corporate interests.

Dr. Mann discussed the episode in his Chapman lecture here.

Alun Hubbard, glaciologist: Greenland's ice sheet is deglaciating

by Peter Sinclair, It's Not Cool, July 29, 2013

Latest video for The Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, the first since returning from Greenland – includes interviews with ice expert Alun Hubbard, whom I met in Kangerlussuaq, as well as a snip from Richard Alley, at June’s Chapman conference in Granby, CO, and Jason Box, who spoke from our DarkSnowProject HQ in Sisimiut, in early July.

Takeaway – Greenland represents 22 feet of sea level rise, it’s moving faster than anyone thought it could just a few years ago, and there are processes occurring deep in the ice that may make even faster inevitable. According to Hubbard, we may we witnessing the deglaciation of a major ice sheet, with serious global implications.

Anthony R. Ingraffea, NYT: Gangplank to a warmer future [fracking]

by Anthony R. Ingraffea, The New York Times, July 29, 2013

ITHACA, N.Y. — MANY concerned about climate change, including President Obama, have embraced hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. In his recent climate speech, the president went so far as to lump gas with renewables as “clean energy.”

As a longtime oil and gas engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department, I can assure you that this gas is not “clean.” Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future — it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere. Still, over a 20-year period, one pound of it traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but methane leakage eviscerates this advantage because of its heat-trapping power.
And methane is leaking, though there is significant uncertainty over the rate. But recent measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado and Utah found leakage rates of 2.3-17% of annual production, in the range my colleagues at Cornell and I predicted some years ago. This is the gas that is released into the atmosphere unburned as part of the hydraulic fracturing process, and also from pipelines, compressors and processing units. Those findings raise questions about what is happening elsewhere. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules to reduce these emissions, but the rules don’t take effect until 2015, and apply only to new wells.
A 2011 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that unless leaks can be kept below 2 percent, gas lacks any climate advantage over coal. And a study released this May by Climate Central, a group of scientists and journalists studying climate change, concluded that the 50% climate advantage of natural gas over coal is unlikely to be achieved over the next three to four decades. Unfortunately, we don’t have that long to address climate change — the next two decades are crucial.
To its credit, the president’s plan recognizes that “curbing emissions of methane is critical.” However, the release of unburned gas in the production process is not the only problem. Gas and oil wells that lose their structural integrity also leak methane and other contaminants outside their casings and into the atmosphere and water wells. Multiple industry studies show that about 5% of all oil and gas wells leak immediately because of integrity issues, with increasing rates of leakage over time. With hundreds of thousands of new wells expected, this problem is neither negligible nor preventable with current technology.
Why do so many wells leak this way? Pressures under the earth, temperature changes, ground movement from the drilling of nearby wells and shrinkage crack and damage the thin layer of brittle cement that is supposed to seal the wells. And getting the cement perfect as the drilling goes horizontally into shale is extremely challenging. Once the cement is damaged, repairing it thousands of feet underground is expensive and often unsuccessful. The gas and oil industries have been trying to solve this problem for decades.
The scientific community has been waiting for better data from the E.P.A. to assess the extent of the water contamination problem. That is why it is so discouraging that, in the face of industry complaints, the E.P.A. reportedly has closed or backed away from several investigations into the problem. Perhaps a full E.P.A. study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, due in 2014, will be more forthcoming. In addition, drafts of an Energy Department study suggest that there are huge problems finding enough water for fracturing future wells. The president should not include this technology in his energy policy until these studies are complete.
We have renewable wind, water, solar and energy-efficiency technology options now. We can scale these quickly and affordably, creating economic growth, jobs and a truly clean energy future to address climate change. Political will is the missing ingredient. Meaningful carbon reduction is impossible so long as the fossil fuel industry is allowed so much influence over our energy policies and regulatory agencies. Policy makers need to listen to the voices of independent scientists while there is still time.

Anthony R. Ingraffea is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University and the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, a nonprofit group.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Extended interview with Natalia Shakhova by Nick Breeze at the 2012 European Geophysical Union meeting  Igor Semiletov can be heard in the background.

NASA'S EOSDIS Worldview: A new way to look closely at the Arctic sea ice

Check it out!  I am adding this link to the links in the left column of the this blog.,311808,-745120,1232384&products=baselayers,MODIS_Terra_CorrectedReflectance_TrueColor~overlays,arctic_coastlines_3413&time=2013-07-26&switch=arctic

"Increasing amount of Arctic Ocean deep waters in the Greenland Sea," by R. Somavilla, U. Schauer & G. Budéus, GRL (2013); doi: 10.1002/grl.50775

Geophysical Research Letters, (2013) in press; doi: 10.1002/grl.50775

Increasing amount of Arctic Ocean deep waters in the Greenland Sea

R. Somavilla, U. Schauer and G. Budéus


In the last three decades, deep convection has come to a halt in the Greenland Sea. Hydrographic data reveal that during this period temperature and salinity in the deep Greenland Sea have increased at mean rates without precedent in the last 100 years, and these trends are among the highest in the global deep ocean. The origin of these changes is identified as the advection of Arctic Ocean deep waters and the necessary transports to explain them are calculated (0.440.09 Sv). Despite the fact that the deep Greenland Sea hardly covers 0.05% of the global surface, the resulting trends constitutes 0.3% of the World Ocean heat content increase per unit area of earth's surface and 0.1% of the global sea level rise. These results suggest that changes of the deep Arctic Mediterranean [see wikipedia link below for explanation of "mediterranean"] and their contribution to the global budgets need to be addressed.

RL Miller: The Truth Behind That $60 Trillion Climate Change Price Tag

The fallout from a recently-published article has some climate scientists questioning the validity of the numbers


An iceberg carved from a glacier floats in the Jakobshavn fjord in southwest Greenland. (Photo: Konrad Steffen / Reuters)

by R.L. Miller, TakePart, July 27, 2013

This week, news broke that if all [actually, 50 Gt is about 3.5-5.0% of the methane estimated to lie below the subsea permafrost of the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf: see article with Shakhova interview included at this link:] the methane off the East Siberian seafloor was released, the fallout would cost $60 trillion — a huge, staggering number.

For comparison’s sake, the world’s GDP is $70 trillion. The findings assume that 50 gigatons of methane would be released over the course of 10 to 20 years in a warming pulse.

Some climate scientists disagree with the underlying assumption. Gavin Schmidt has taken to Twitter to argue that 50 gigatons is an excessive estimate; prior warming periods didn’t show similarly large releases of methane.

On the other hand, climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann tells TakePart: “The precise magnitude [of methane] is an object of valid debate, but the possibility of a substantial release cannot be dismissed out of hand.” Climate modelers have underestimated Greenland sheet ice and Arctic sea ice melt, so the estimate is not outside the realm of possibility.

Very large numbers make us sit up and take notice, but they’re also hard to grasp. What is climate change currently costing even without that warming pulse? A NRDC report estimates that American taxpayers, through the federal government, paid $100 billion in 2012 — more than the cost of education or transportation. (And that doesn’t include what state and local governments, insurers, or private citizens paid.) Mann estimates the global cost at $1.4 trillion per year in coastal damage, droughts, fires, floods and hurricanes.

We know that Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to armor New York City to protect against the next Sandy has a $20 billion price tag. No similar grand proposal has been made for other great cities of the East Coast — Boston, Washington, D.C., or Charleston. No similar proposal has been made for Midwestern cities facing floods, or Southwestern cities, where wildfire season now starts July 1 and ends June 30.

And what of Miami? It contributed $263 billion to gross domestic product in 2010, according to the Bureau of Economic Advisors. Caught between rising seas to the east and the Everglades to the west, the city is doomed to drown.

Abandoning Miami means not only moving or abandoning the businesses who create its gross domestic product, but walking away from its pricey real estate, its roads, hospitals, schools and infrastructure. The cost of relocating its people needs to be calculated both in dollars and in heartbreak. But if you ask people to estimate the cost of abandoning Miami, you get blank stares. It’s as if the language to ask the question hasn’t been invented yet.

“It is not difficult to envision much larger costs, [i.e., $60 trillion] given the potential larger and more abrupt warming [the more abrupt the warming, the more costly it is to try to adapt] that the authors calculate,” says Mann. And it’s not difficult to imagine that there are costs we haven’t even begun to imagine. And when you multiply those costs, city after city after city, suddenly $60 trillion becomes a very realistic and frightening number.

Anti-fracking activists arrested at West Sussex drilling site

Police remove 14 protesters blockading Balcombe site where energy company Cuadrilla is looking for shale oil 

by Robert Booth, The Guardian

Balcombe fracking protest
Police officers try to break a human chain formed by anti-fracking protesters at Balcombe. Photograph: Tony Kershaw/Rex Features
Sussex police have made 14 arrests at an oil drilling site near the village of Balcombe after local people and anti-fracking activists attempted to block the delivery of machinery for a second day using a human chain and tree trunks.
Activists said police removed people who had blockaded the gates to the rural West Sussex site where the energy company Cuadrilla, headed by the former BP chief Lord Browne, intends to start test drilling for oil next week.
Sussex police said five people were arrested for causing danger to road users, and nine under trade union law for attempting to stop drivers and other workers from accessing the site. Police said the arrests were peaceful, but activists said there were struggles.
On Thursday the protesters, who had gathered by the gate to the drilling site on London Road, were warned by police that they would be committing an offence if they blocked trucks from entering.
Police at Balcombe protestPolice protect a lorry delivering drilling equipment to the Balcombe fracking site. Photograph: Lee ThomasDemotix/Corbis
The alliance of environmentalists and villagers succeeded in turning away at least one truck carrying parts for the drilling operation, which Cuadrilla says could result in controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Sussex shale. Many camped overnight, but on Friday there was a heavier police presence, according to reports from campaigners.
"A human chain was formed in front of the gates and the police have made the first arrests," said Andrew West from the campaign group Frack Off. "People are really shocked it escalated so quickly."
This week the Environment Agency and the Department for Energy granted permits for oil exploration on the site to Cuadrilla, which also operates fracking rigs in Lancashire.
Opponents of the exploratory drilling fear that water sources could be polluted by fracking, rural lanes in the area might be congested with heavy lorries and that there could even be earthquakes from blasting liquid into the rocks to release oil and gas. The operation to break up the protest involved an estimated 75 police officers who marched down the road in formation, according to Lilias Cheyne, a anti-fracking activist who witnessed the arrests.
G4S staff at BalcombeG4S staff guard the entrance to the Balcombe fracking site. Photograph: Lee Thomas/Demotix/Corbis [Ya gotta wonder if the dude not wearing a hard hat is part of management.]
"They just started taking people out one by one," she said. "Not everyone went voluntarily and there were some struggles. A girl was shouting at one point and seemed to be quite upset and the police seemed to be quite rough. I saw a policeman with his knuckles pressing on the side of a guy's face until he released the man he was holding onto. He was obviously hurting him. Another looked like he was bending someone's little finger back."
About half an hour later a tanker made its way onto the site – the first vehicle in over 24 hours since the blockade began on Thursday morning. The main road was reportedly closed to any other traffic, a move which anti-fracking activists said was interfering with their right to protest.
"Sussex police fully supports the right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law and also facilitate the contractors to carry out their business," said Superintendent Steve Whitton. "Our aim is to provide a safe and secure environment for protesters, residents and the contractors, to minimise disruption to the community and to prevent crime and disorder."
Ashley Williams, who witnessed the arrests, said: "This is a totally disproportionate response. The community are standing up for themselves against a company that is trying to poison them. As soon as regular people put their head above the parapet the state jumps in to defend the interests of a wealthy few."

Eemian interglacial period poor analog for current Arctic warming

Warm climate -- cold Arctic? The Eemian is a poor analogue for current climate change

by, June 14, 2012

The Eemian interglacial period that began some 125,000 years ago is often used as a model for contemporary climate change. In the international journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists from Mainz, Kiel and Potsdam, Germany, now present evidence that the Eemian differed in essential details from modern climatic conditions.

To address the question about how climate may develop in the future, earth scientists direct their attention to the past. They look for epochs with similar conditions to today. The major identified climatic processes are then simulated with  to further test possible reactions of the Earths' system. An epoch which is often regarded suitable for such an undertaking is the Eemian , which began around 125,000 years ago following the Saalian ice age.
For about 10,000 years,  on Earth in the Eemian were rather enhanced – probably several degrees above today's level. This seems to be well documented in both ice cores as well as terrestrial records from land vegetation. Substantial parts of the Greenland ice had melted, and global sea level was higher than today. "Therefore, the Eemian time is suited apparently so well as a basis for the topical issue of ", says Dr Henning Bauch, who works for the Academy of the Sciences and the Literature Mainz (AdW Mainz) at GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.
However, in a study which appears in the recent issue of the international journal  Dr Bauch, Dr Evgeniya Kandiano of GEOMAR as well as Dr Jan Helmke of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam now show that the Eemian warm period differed from the present day situation in one critical aspect – the development in the Arctic Ocean.
In our current warm period, also called Holocene, oceanic and atmospheric circulation delivers large amounts of heat northward into the high latitudes. The most well known heat conveyer is the Gulf Stream and its northern prolongation called the North Atlantic Drift. The currents provide not only the pleasant temperatures in Northern Europe, they also reach as far as the Arctic. Studies in the last years have shown that the oceanic heat transport to the Arctic has even increased, while the summer sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean seems to be decreasing continuously. It has long been assumed that such conditions also prevailed 125,000 years ago. Accordingly, the Arctic should have been by and large ice-free in the Eemian summers.
Dr Bauch's group examined sediment cores from the seabed in which information about the climate history of the past 500,000 years is stored. These come from the Atlantic to the west of Ireland and from the central Nordic Seas to the east of the island of Jan Mayen. The sediments contain minute calcite tests of dead microorganisms (foraminifers). "The type of species assemblage in the respective layers as well as the isotopic composition of the calcitic tests give us information about temperature and other properties of the water in which they lived at that time", explains Dr Bauch.
The samples from the Atlantic delivered the higher-than-Holocene temperature signals so typical for the Eemian. The tests from the Nordic Seas, however, tell quite another story. "The found foraminifers of Eemian time indicate comparatively cold conditions." The isotope investigations of the tests, in combination with previous studies of the group, "indicate major contrasts between the ocean surfaces of these two regions ", according to Dr Bauch. "Obviously, the warm Atlantic surface current was weaker in the high latitude during the Eemian than today." His explanation: "The Saalian glaciation which preceded the Eemian was of much bigger extent in Northern Europe than during the Weichselian, the ice age period before our present warm interval. Therefore, more fresh water from the melting Saalian ice sheets poured into the Nordic Seas, and for a longer period of time. This situation had three consequences: The oceanic circulation in the north was reduced, and winter sea ice was more likely to form because of lower salinity. At the same time, this situation led to a kind of 'overheating' in the North Atlantic due to a continuing transfer of ocean heat from the south."
On the one hand, the study introduces new views on the Eemian climate. On the other hand, the new results have consequences for climatology in general: "Obviously, some decisive processes in the Eemian ran off differently, like the transfer of ocean warmth towards the Arctic. Models should take this into consideration if they want to forecast the future climate development on the basis of past analogues like the Eemian ", says Dr. Bauch.

Arctic sea ice extent: 1920-1939 vs 2012

More on northern sea ice

A popular internet meme runs something like “melt was similar back in…”, usually referring to some arbitrary period in the 1920s or 1930s. Well, unsurprisingly, there really are quite good records from then, and, unsurprisingly, they show nothing remotely like current ice conditions:
The animation is drawn from the Danish Meteorological Institute’s sea ice maps for August in each year from 1920 to 1939.  The red marks show actual records of ice conditions and the white area is the inferred ice extent. The last image is the US National Snow and Ice Data Center’s satellite-derived sea ice concentration image for August 2012.
There’s also the historical sea ice extent compilation by Walsh and Chapman at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research / University of Illinois (as plotted at Cryosphere Today):
History of seasonal sea ice 1900-2010, NOAA
Again, ever considered the possibility you’ve been lied to?

"Offshore permafrost decay and massive seabed methane escape in water depths >20 m at the South Kara Sea shelf,"by Alexey Portnov et al., GRL (2013) in press; doi: 10.1002/grl.50735

Geophysical Research Letters, (2013) in press; doi: 10.1002/grl.50735

Offshore permafrost decay and massive seabed methane escape in water depths >20 m at the South Kara Sea shelf

  1. Alexey Portnov*
  2. Andrew J. Smith,
  3. Jürgen Mienert
  4. Georgy Cherkashov,
  5. Pavel Rekant
  6. Peter Semenov
  7. Pavel Serov and
  8. Boris Vanshtein

Since the Last Glacial Maximum (~19 ka), coastal inundation from sea-level rise has been thawing thick subsea permafrost across the Arctic. Although subsea permafrost has been mapped on several Arctic continental shelves, permafrost distribution in the South Kara Sea and the extent to which it is acting as an impermeable seal to seabed methane escape remains poorly understood. Here we use >1300 km of high-resolution seismic (HRS) data to map hydroacoustic anomalies, interpreted to record seabed gas release, on the West Yamal shelf. Gas flares are widespread over an area of at least 7,500 km2 in water depths >20 m. We propose that continuous subsea permafrost extends to water depths of ~20 m offshore and creates a seal through which gas cannot migrate. This Arctic shelf region where seafloor gas release is widespread suggests that permafrost has degraded more significantly than previously thought.

Supra-glacial lakes flowing into moulins release latent heat, softening the Greenland Ice Sheet up like butter

Like butter: Study explains surprising acceleration of Greenland’s inland ice

Like butter: Study explains surprising acceleration of Greenland’s inland ice

NOAA, July 16, 2013
Surface meltwater draining through cracks in an ice sheet can warm the sheet from the inside, softening the ice and letting it flow faster, according to a new study by scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.
During the last decade, researchers have captured compelling evidence of accelerating ice flow at terminal regions, or “snouts,” of Greenland glaciers as they flow into the ocean along the western coast. Now, the new CIRES research shows that the interior regions are also flowing much faster than they were in the winter of 2000-2001, and the paper proposes a reason for the speedup.
Melt on surface of Greeland's Avannarleq Glacier
Melt on surface of Greeland's Avannarleq Glacier. Meltwater from the surface of the Sermeq Avannarleq Glacier drains down toward interior ice. This photograph depicts a region about 10 miles from the ice sheet margin in Southwest Greenland. (Credit: William Colgen, CIRES)
“Through satellite observations, we determined that an inland region of the Sermeq Avannarleq Glacier, 40 to 60 miles from the coastis flowing about 1.5 times faster than it was about a decade ago,” said Thomas Phillips, lead author of the new paper and a CIRES research associate at the time of the study. In 2000-2001, the inland segment was flowing at about 130 feet (40 meters) per year; in 2007-2008, that speed was closer to 200 feet per year (60 m).
“At first, we couldn’t explain this rapid interior acceleration,” Phillips said. “We knew it wasn’t related to what was going on at the glacier’s terminus. The speedup had to be due to changes within the ice itself.”
To shed light on the observed acceleration, Phillips and his team developed a new model to investigate the effects of meltwater on the ice sheet’s physical properties. The team found that meltwater warms the ice sheet, which then—like a warm stick of butter—softens, deforms, and flows faster.
Previous studies estimated that it would take centuries to millennia for new climates to increase the temperature deep within ice sheets. But when the influence of meltwater is considered, warming can occur within decades and, thus, produce rapid accelerations. The paper has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
The CIRES researchers were tipped off to this mechanism by the massive amount of meltwater they observed on the ice sheet’s surface during their summer field campaigns, and they wondered if it was affecting the ice sheet. During the last several decades, atmospheric warming above the Greenland Ice Sheet has caused an expanding area of the surface to melt during the summer, creating pools of water that gush down cracks in the ice. The meltwater eventually funnels to the interior and bed of the ice sheet.
Graph of ice sheet velocity, between 2005-2007
Graph of ice sheet velocity, between 2005-2007. A new study explains recent, satellite-observed acceleration of an interior region of the southwestern Greenland Ice Sheet. In this map, reds and yellows indicate areas where ice sheet velocity increased substantially between 2005 and 2007. (Credit: CIRES & AGU)
As the meltwater drains through the ice, it carries with it heat from the sun.
“The sun melts ice into water at the surface, and that water then flows into the ice sheet carrying a tremendous amount of latent energy,” said William Colgan, a coauthor and CIRES adjunct research associate. “The latent energy then heats the ice.”
The new model shows that this speeds up ice flow in two major ways: One, the retained meltwater warms the bed of the ice sheet and preconditions it to accommodate a basal water layer, making it easier for the ice sheet to slide by lubrication. Two, warmer ice is also softer (less viscous), which makes it flow more readily.
“Basically, the gravitational force driving the ice sheet flow hasn’t changed over time, but with the ice sheet becoming warmer and softer, that same gravitational force now makes the ice flow faster,” Colgan said.
This transformation from stiff to soft only requires a little bit of extra heat from meltwater. “The model shows that a slight warming of the ice near the ice sheet bed—only a couple of degrees Celsius—is sufficient to explain the widespread acceleration,” Colgan said.
The findings have important ramifications for ice sheets and glaciers everywhere. “It could imply that ice sheets can discharge ice into the ocean far more rapidly than currently estimated,” Phillips said. “It also means that the glaciers are not finished accelerating and may continue to accelerate for a while. As the area experiencing melt expands inland, the acceleration may be observed farther inland.”
The new model will help scientists more accurately forecast these impacts, and it is being incorporated into Earth-system models for predicting future ice discharge from the Greenland Ice Sheet.
“Traditionally, latent energy has been considered a relatively unimportant factor, but most glaciers are now receiving far more meltwater than they used to and are increasing in temperature faster than previously imagined,” Colgan said. “The chunk of butter known as the Greenland Ice Sheet may be softening a lot faster than we previously thought possible.”
The study was funded through a NASA ROSES grant, NASA’s Greenland Climate Network, and the National Science Foundation. Other coauthors on the paper were CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati, former CIRES Director Konrad Steffen, and CU-Boulder Engineering Professor Harihar Rajaram.