The cold spot caused by global warming and why it should scare you

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You saw the film The Day After Tomorrow. This is that. Not like in the movie, but still…

Warming causes melting of ice, adding fresh water into the North Atlantic, which interferes with a major current system that at present warms Europe.

Consequence: The planet warms dangerously, while at the same time, large parts of Europe become much cooler, to the extent that people may not be able to live there in the manner they do now, or produce very much food there. Gibraltar would have a climate similar to the coast of Maine, and Berlin would have a climate similar to the Northwest Territories or northern Hudson Bay.

The models have predicted this, but it now seems that they’ve under-predicted it. It appears to be happening faster, and more furiously, than expected.

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30 thoughts on “The cold spot caused by global warming and why it should scare you

  1. I am not alarmed, I am terrified. In 1997 we published a study of ocean circulation, using deep-water corals as an archive (Smith et al, Nature 386:818). We suggested that the initiation of the Younger Dryas “may have taken place over as few as 5 years.” This was a shutdown of the NAD, triggered by (we believe) a meltwater pulse.

    That movie doesn’t seem too far-fetched now.

    1. Mike, I am not alarmed either – I am nihilistic*.

      I and several other people spoke of the under-estimation of the shutting down of the north Atlantic over a decade ago on Deltoid, and even then I was concerned that we’d run out of time.

      It’s now 2019 and we’re still on the action starting block, and my worst fears about under-estimation are being realised, and the parsimonious conclusion is that we’re locked into profoundly serious climate and environmental damage, and all we can do now is to work as hard as possible to ensure the least number of broken bones when we hit the wall…

      And with every pasing day we’re still sitting on that bloody starting block.

      (*I am also terrified…)

  2. I’ve lost all hope that global warming will be halted by mankind. I used to hope I’d be gone (I turn 70 next month) before the worst hit us. Now I’m pretty sure I won’t and that terrifies me. If Trump gets reelected (and there’s a damn good chance he will with voting irregularities – Russia, Moscow Mitch blocking security upgrades, voter suppression etc. etc. etc.) life on entire planet is screwed.

    1. Not too far from the cold spot is a smaller hot spot (dark blob, upper right):
      http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ocean/weeklyenso_clim_81-10/wksl_anm.gif

      It hasn’t budged in the ~ 3 years I’ve been looking. A little research:

      “The heatwave of 2018 fits with a much longer trend in the region, which is among the fastest-warming parts of the global ocean. In the past three decades, the Gulf of Maine has warmed by 0.06°C (0.11°F) per year, three times faster than the global average. Over the past 15 years, the basin has warmed at seven times the global average. The Gulf has warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean.”

      “We are seeing a major shift in the circulation in the North Atlantic, likely related to a weakening Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC),” said Pershing. “One of the side effects of a weaker AMOC is that the Gulf Stream shifts northward and the cold current flowing into the Gulf of Maine gets weaker. This means we get more warmer water pushing into the Gulf.”

      https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2798/watery-heatwave-cooks-the-gulf-of-maine/

  3. yes “We analyzed 40 climate models from modeling centers around the world,” said Eisenman, a professor of climate, atmospheric science, and physical oceanography at Scripps. “Not a single one of the models simulated as much Arctic sea ice retreat per degree of global warming as has been observed during recent decades.”
    https://scripps.ucsd.edu/news/research-highlight-loss-arctics-reflective-sea-ice-will-advance-global-warming-25-years?fbclid=IwAR0u8l81KrNAmnUaDvkVInPWPPpH4pGiNxygcLu0rpqQ–eMnE2EEzQtEns

    And yes-as Snape points out in 2018 the Gulf of Maine had only 45 days of LESS than extreme heat- the weakened Labrador current has allowed the Gulf Stream to push on into the Gulf. Not so bad to find seahorses in your lobster traps but very very bad for AMOC implications.

    The recent Woods analysis shows the Beaufort Gyre has doubled its Heat Content over 3 decades and that heat is no longer confined to its upper depths . Its authors caution that “With continued sea ice losses in the Chukchi Sea, additional heat may continue to be archived in the warm halocline. This underscores the far-reaching implications of changes to the dynamical ice-ocean system in the Chukchi Sea region. However, there is a limit to this: Once the source waters for the halocline become warm enough that their buoyancy is affected, ventilation can be shut off.”https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/8/eaat6773

    It will not matter a bit how much the heavy hand of Trump and a few other oil nations water down the IPCC reports as they did this past December – “Nature bats last”

  4. For what it’s worth, humans usually respond better to actual hazards than to those which are predicted. Several years ago, I read of a study that led to the conclusion that people thought better of a leader who responded quickly and effectively to a crisis than a leader who prepared for such crises.

    In any case, I predict that neither Trump, or the GOP as a party, will admit to making a major error in judgement in the face of good evidence for an impending disaster. It will somehow become: (A) God’s punishment for gay marriage and/or (B) the fault of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, or maybe even Bill Clinton.

    1. Tyvor
      I agree. Today at Climate Etc.

      “God has allowed carbon dioxide to increase for more food production for the population incresae from 7 to 9 billion by 2050 by natural causes.”

      “God is in control of our climate.”

      ***********
      When those who share this view discover there’s a problem, it will almost certainly be taken as “God’s wrath”.

    2. It’s always bemused me that evolution has not effectively placed in our species’ genetic make-up a capacity to extend into the future the understandings arising from our capacity to analyse, but that it lumbered us with a maladapted predilection for believing in sky fairies, and with a predisposition for all the intellectual gymnasts and cognitive scotomata that follow on from such beliefs.

      Talk about arse-around…

  5. Meanwhile, tangential yet with powerful implications here, It is mid-winter in Oz here now.

    And there are right now bushfires burning and threatening homes :

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-22/nsw-emergency-services-battle-bushfire-at-belmont-near-newcastle/11440150

    Plus fires burning down the Amazon :

    https://www.msnbc.com/ali-velshi/watch/climate-scientist-on-impact-of-amazon-rain-forest-fires-66900037978?fbclid=IwAR2CpNm3vBul9YQsstX8wISnlP9qfSIb6yzpAAo85cSlNqOPv-s6XRk64Z0

    As well as those blazing in the temperate rainforests of the sub-Arctic and even on Greenland :

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-13/danish-firefighters-head-for-greenland-as-wildfires-spread

    That rare cold spot, yeah, it scares me. The part of the pattern it belongs too and the implications of Global Overheating everywhere? That damn well terrifies me and if you aren’t scared by it then you really don’t understand what’s going on and what it implies.

    1. Something that we desperately need to acknowledge and discuss and act on is that it’s already too late for many areas, many people, many species. We need to understand and acknowledge that we’ve left it too late to avoid things that we are still imagining that we can avoid if we act in the future, or even if we act now.

      We need to recognise how much we’ve lost by our current delay, so that we can be clear about what we need to do to salvage something of the future. And there’s a lot that we’ve lost, even though we can still see it – nature’s approach to loss and extinction is to irreversibly lock it in years, decades, and centuries before the tunnel vision of humans can perceive it.

      We’re at least 30 years too late to have the sort of future that we think we’re working toward now. And every additional day of delay adds days (plural) or even weeks to that accumulating inevitability.

    2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/23/amazon-rainforest-fires-deforestation-jair-bolsonaro

      And yet, despite all the urgency that is starting to trickle into the journalism reporting this, they’re still not capturing the staggering scope of the loss that humans have caused. This burning marks a new phase in humanity’s suicidal destruction of the planet’s biodiversity. Our civilisation will collapse without the ecosystem services onwhich we rely.

      And all this has been ramped up by a few megalomaniacal men. Had there not been a Trump and a Putin and a Bolsonaro – and yes, even an Abbott – we may have had a decade or more of additional time to address the non-fossil fuel damage that we’re inflicting.

      But there was, and we don’t, and now we’re in free fall…

  6. Re: ““God has allowed carbon dioxide to increase for more food production …”

    Thanks Snape, it was just a day or two ago that I caught just a snippet of video regarding falling production in the American middle west due to the increasing number of hot days. So that statement was falsified before it was made.

    1. Even better (actually, worse), an increase in CO2 won’t do much good for food production without an increase in availability of the other nutriments needed by the plants, notably nitrogen.

      A recently published article found out that the actual nutritious content of rice is decreasing, because, to put it simply, a rise of CO2 makes it easier for the plant to assemble carbohydrates, so there is a mechanical increase of carbohydrate production, at the detriment of the production of other molecules, like proteins, and more importantly, vitamins of the B group.
      https://phys.org/news/2018-05-co2-rice-nutritional.html

  7. Earth has been around for millions of years. We have some proof of extremes taking out civilizations long before they could seriously affect climate change. The question is should we spend trillions trying to reverse what is likely the inevitable change in climate. Or spend money trying to adopt to what is coming? Where people thousands of years ago had no ability to move or adopt to extremes. We have more resources to put forth to attempt to deal with it. To adapt would seem way more effective and have a more potential of success then claiming we know what to do in order to reverse climate changes. My faith in scientists understanding how to achieve such reversal is hardly one I would place my bet on. Accepting that change happens and dealing with those changes would be a much better bet and have a better result.

    1. The question is should we spend trillions trying to reverse what is likely the inevitable change in climate.

      The extent of climate change and the depth of its negative impacts will be determined by total CO2 emissions. The less we ultimately emit, the less severe the climate impacts will be.

      So the question is ill-posed. It is not that we can spend trillions attempting to reverse climate change, rather we could spend the money trying to reduce its severity in the medium and long term.

    2. “Where people thousands of years ago had no ability to move or adopt to extremes.”

      I’m thinking just the opposite. A thousand years ago, North America was a land without borders.

    3. This post is riddled with so many logical fallacies that it’s difficult to know where to start.

      We have some proof of extremes taking out civilizations long before they could seriously affect climate change.

      Red herring: what happened in those cases is not germane to what’s happening now. Which leads ro a related fallacy…

      Normalcy bias: expecting the past to predict the future, when there is no guarantee the same factors are in operation.

      The question is should we spend trillions trying to reverse what is likely the inevitable change in climate.

      False dichotomy: there is more than just the cost involved that needs to be considered in making decisions. Which leads to…

      Incomplete comparison: there are more important issues involved than just cost.

      Argument from assertion: you are (falsely) claiming that the contemporary warming is “inevitable” when in fact the natural state of affairs is slow cooling – it’s only warming because humans choose to continue to emit fossil carbon.

      Or spend money trying to adopt [sic] to what is coming?

      Incomplete comparison: you are not confronting the full cost of adaptation. Further, you are not confronting the fact that adaptation is not fully possible, both for humans and especially for the rest of life on the planet.

      Where people thousands of years ago had no ability to move or adopt [sic] to extremes.

      Argument from assertion: you are (falsely) claiming that previous civilisations couldn’t migrate (or adapt). They could, on both counts, and in fact even in the face of slower natural climate change processes their ability to survive was at times compromised by unavoidable impacts on agriculture and other food/resource availability.

      We have more resources to put forth to attempt to deal with it.

      Argument from assertion: in fact resources are dwindling in most sectors, and we are woefully under-resources to be able to sustain our current population and way of life:

      https://www.biobasedpress.eu/2017/12/doughnut-economics-or-why-economists-should-learn-more-about-technology/planetary_boundaries_of_agriculture_and_nutrition/

      https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/earth-overshoot-day-humanity-resources/

      To adapt would seem way more effective and have a more potential of success then [sic] claiming we know what to do in order to reverse climate changes.

      Argument from assertion; hasty induction: adaptation without mitigation is a lost cause. The more it warms the more exponential is the degree of effort/difficulty required to adapt, and the more the underlying and unaddressed causes continue to increase. Consider this:

      https://www.dw.com/image/39462046_401.png

      My faith in scientists understanding how to achieve such reversal is hardly one I would place my bet on.

      Argument from incredulity. Your unevidenced (and incorrect, as it happens) resistance to the reliability of professional, expert scientists is no proof of your assertions.

      Accepting that change happens and dealing with those changes would be a much better bet and have a better result.

      Argument from assertion, and completely false. And before you claim that I’m making assertions myself, go check AR5. I’ve used my quota of links before I evaporate in the bin of moderation, but there is a wealth of referenced information there that indicates that doing nothing is a recipe for disaster.

      These are just the fallacies that I discovered on a first parsing – I’m sure that I’ve left out many more…

    4. JohnL, this is mostly wrong.

      “Earth has been around for millions of years. ”

      Billions. And during that time nearly all life was forced into extinction a number of times because of changes in atmospheric or ocean chemistry. The history of the Earth should make us concerned about changing atmospheric or ocean chemistry.

      “We have some proof of extremes taking out civilizations long before they could seriously affect climate change. ”

      The archaeological community actually disagrees with you. There are no cases of civilizations going under where we agree on the causes, and few where causes are clear or suggested strongly by the evidence. But where there are major changes, shifts in climate like the one we are causing, but much less severe, seem to be the main implication in some of them. The history of human civilizations should make us worry about the much more serious changes we are causing now.

      “The question is should we spend trillions trying to reverse what is likely the inevitable change in climate. ”

      There is inevitable change, and there is change we can stop, slow, or even reverse. So the premise of your argument if false. The amount of money we need to spend, if we spent it all at once and with one whopping big bill, might be a couple of trillions, but most likely, most of that money will be passed through the system in the form of profit generating economic turnover. There are no credible economists that disagree with that.

      “Or spend money trying to adopt to what is coming? ”

      You might mean adapt, and not adopt. In any event, we spend plenty to adapt now, and because this problem has not been dealt with (your fault) we will have to spend much more than we otherwise would have.

      “Where people thousands of years ago had no ability to move or adopt to extremes. ”

      Pre-ag hunter gatherers actually adopted as their habitats, i.e, adapted to habitats, across a range of living conditions that even to this day post-ag people have been unable to. Our system of existence is more delicate and vulnerable wrt morality and morbidity caused by changes in settlement, food availability, and climate, than ever before.

      “We have more resources to put forth to attempt to deal with it. To adapt would seem way more effective and have a more potential of success then claiming we know what to do in order to reverse climate changes. ”

      Not one single expert in this area agrees with that.

      “My faith in scientists understanding how to achieve such reversal is hardly one I would place my bet on. Accepting that change happens and dealing with those changes would be a much better bet and have a better result.”

      See arguments above. This leaves me wondering how someone could have such a totally incorrect view of climate change.

  8. “Where people thousands of years ago had no ability to move or adopt to extremes. We have more resources to put forth to attempt to deal with it. ”

    The historical and prehistorical record is full of human migrations, from Africa into Eurasia and from there into everywhere else except Antarctica. It was actually a lot easier for people organized into simpler societies to move than it is for our modern, societies, with their dependence on roads, power plants and power grids, industries, etc., all integrated tightly into people’s lives and livelihoods. When people flee by the hundreds of thousands from flooding coastal regions all over the world, who is going to give up “their” land to them? Having lost their homes (and any equity related to them) and likely their jobs, what are they going to use for money? What do you suppose will happen to the already antiquated and over-stressed infrastructure in many areas when large numbers of needy people flood in? Is Trumpist America in any way prepared to respond to such situations, even within the U. S. itself, let alone from other countries? it wasn’t too long ago that Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the NE, and some Southern states balked at providing the kind of Federal aid that they had been receiving for the same kind of devastation for decades. And several decades before that, California tried their best to close their borders to immigrants from the Dust Bowl states.

  9. I just came across a really smart comment – regarding the cost of switching to a low carbon society,

    “Solving the problem by 2030, 2040 or 2050 requires a new global energy infrastructure, which is arguably easier and less expensive than past infrastructure shifts like indoor plumbing, rural electrification, the automobile and paved roads, telecommunications, computers, mobile phones or the internet.”

    “All of these past changes cost tens of trillions of dollars, adjusted for inflation. All of them were hugely disruptive. All of them took a decade or more, completely changed the industrial and economic and social landscape, and created bursts of growth and productivity and jobs. And arguably, all of them made life better for huge numbers of people.”

    – Scott Denning, Colorado State University

    1. Ah but in the U.S. the only relevant question is: Will such a change enrich the Koch brothers and the other current billionaires pouring huge amounts of dark money into disinformation campaigns to affect the general public’s perceptions and their voting choices?

    2. Reply to Snape…..Although true, none of those paradigm shifts involved overcoming the incredible built in influence on the scale of the fossil fuel industry

      None of those shifts meant giving up notions of “ease” or “luxury” or “convenience ” by consumers

      And every one of those shifts brought about immediate life enhancements to the consumers- the Climate Crisis requires deferring immediate gratification by individuals for the long term welfare of the greater ecology. We seem quite incapable of doing that on any significant level.

  10. @curtis m goodnight

    Your points are well taken. I realize the Denning quote is an oversimplification.
    It should have been followed by, “on the other hand……”

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