Tag Archives: Arctic

Climate Change Viewed From Alaska

Alaska is being called the poster child (state?) for climate change because things have been so strange there lately. One reason for this is the extreme warm conditions in the North Pacific and associated (probably) changes in the jet stream, as well as overall warming, which has caused coastal Alaska to become a warm place, glaciers to melt, and (in the farther north) sea ice to be less. And now, President Obama has made a trip there and given a big speech.

President Obama’s speech:

More information on the President’s trip here.

Meanwhile, another study cites arctic ice loss as a factor in extreme events.

The new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience, advances a growing body of science demonstrating that these record-breaking extremes have not been a pause in the advance of human-driven climate change but a result of it.

The newly published study, led by Jong-Seong Kug of South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology, used climate and weather observations as well as climate change modeling to investigate potential connections between these and other extreme cold winter weather systems over North America and South Asia last winter and historically low levels of summer sea ice in areas of the Arctic Ocean.

I’ve written about this quite a bit before. See:

Linking Weather Extremes to Global Warming

Imperfect Storms: A Controversy In Climate Science

Global Warming and Extreme Weather – #climate #agw

The top of the Earth burns, makes Global Warming Worse

More Research Linking Global Warming To Bad Weather Events

Global Warming Changing Weather in the US Northeast

The text of President Obama’s speech in Alaska:



Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center

Anchorage, Alaska

5:00 P.M. AKDT

 THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  (Applause.) It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Alaska.  (Applause.) 

I want to thank Secretary Kerry and members of my administration for your work here today. Thank you to the many Alaskans, Alaska Natives and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic who’ve traveled a long way, in many cases, to share your insights and your experiences. And to all the foreign ministers and delegations who’ve come here from around the world — welcome to the United States, and thank you all for attending this GLACIER Conference.

The actual name of the conference is much longer. It’s a mouthful, but the acronym works because it underscores the incredible changes that are taking place here in the Arctic that impact not just the nations that surround the Arctic, but have an impact for the entire world, as well.

I want to thank the people of Alaska for hosting this conference. I look forward to visiting more of Alaska over the next couple of days. The United States is, of course, an Arctic nation. And even if this isn’t an official gathering of the Arctic Council, the United States is proud to chair the Arctic Council for the next two years. And to all the foreign dignitaries who are here, I want to be very clear — we are eager to work with your nations on the unique opportunities that the Arctic presents and the unique challenges that it faces. We are not going to — any of us — be able to solve these challenges by ourselves. We can only solve them together.

Of course, we’re here today to discuss a challenge that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other — and that’s the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.

Our understanding of climate change advances each day. Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought. The science is stark. It is sharpening. It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.

In fact, the Arctic is the leading edge of climate change — our leading indicator of what the entire planet faces. Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average. Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Last year was Alaska’s warmest year on record — just as it was for the rest of the world. And the impacts here are very real.

Thawing permafrost destabilizes the earth on which 100,000 Alaskans live, threatening homes, damaging transportation and energy infrastructure, which could cost billions of dollars to fix.

Warmer, more acidic oceans and rivers, and the migration of entire species, threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism. Reduced sea levels leaves villages unprotected from floods and storm surges. Some are in imminent danger; some will have to relocate entirely. In fact, Alaska has some of the swiftest shoreline erosion rates in the world.

I recall what one Alaska Native told me at the White House a few years ago. He said, “Many of our villages are ready to slide off into the waters of Alaska, and in some cases, there will be absolutely no hope -– we will need to move many villages.”

Alaska’s fire season is now more than a month longer than it was in 1950. At one point this summer, more than 300 wildfires were burning at once. Southeast of here, in our Pacific Northwest, even the rainforest is on fire. More than 5 million acres in Alaska have already been scorched by fire this year — that’s an area about the size of Massachusetts. If you add the fires across Canada and Siberia, we’re talking 300 [30] million acres -– an area about the size of New York.

This is a threat to many communities — but it’s also an immediate and ongoing threat to the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect ours. Less than two weeks ago, three highly trained firefighters lost their lives fighting a fire in Washington State. Another has been in critical condition. We are thankful to each and every firefighter for their heroism — including the Canadian firefighters who’ve helped fight the fires in this state.

But the point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety — now. Today. And climate change is a trend that affects all trends — economic trends, security trends. Everything will be impacted. And it becomes more dramatic with each passing year.

Already it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live.

Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40 percent — a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades. One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons — that’s 75 billion tons — of ice each year.

To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington — from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose each year. The pace of melting is only getting faster. It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 — twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.

Consider, as well, that many of the fires burning today are actually burning through the permafrost in the Arctic. So this permafrost stores massive amounts of carbon. When the permafrost is no longer permanent, when it thaws or burns, these gases are released into our atmosphere over time, and that could mean that the Arctic may become a new source of emissions that further accelerates global warming.

So if we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle — warming leading to more warming — that we do not want to be a part of.

And the fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That, ladies and gentlemen, must change. We’re not acting fast enough.

I’ve come here today, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter, to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it. And I believe we can solve it. That’s the good news. Even if we cannot reverse the damage that we’ve already caused, we have the means — the scientific imagination and technological innovation — to avoid irreparable harm.

We know this because last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat. So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.

Here in the United States, we’re trying to do our part. Since I took office six and a half years ago, the United States has made ambitious investments in clean energy, and ambitious reductions in our carbon emissions. We now harness three times as much electricity from wind and 20 times as much from the sun. Alaskans now lead the world in the development of hybrid wind energy systems from remote grids, and it’s expanding its solar and biomass resources.

We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every imaginable way — in our buildings, our cars, our trucks, our homes, even the appliances inside them. We’re saving consumers billions of dollars along the way. Here in Alaska, more than 15,000 homeowners have cut their energy bills by 30 percent on average. That collectively saves Alaskans more than $50 million each year. We’ve helped communities build climate-resilient infrastructure to prepare for the impacts of climate change that we can no longer prevent.

Earlier this month, I announced the first set of nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants. It’s the single most important step America has ever taken on climate change. And over the course of the coming days, I intend to speak more about the particular challenges facing Alaska and the United States as an Arctic power, and I intend to announce new measures to address them.

So we are working hard to do our part to meet this challenge. And in doing so, we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth. But we’re not moving fast enough. None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough.

And let’s be honest — there’s always been an argument against taking action. The notion is somehow this will curb our economic growth. And at a time when people are anxious about the economy, that’s an argument oftentimes for inaction. We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted. In countries where there remains significant poverty, including here in the United States, the notion is, can we really afford to prioritize this issue. The irony, of course, is, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change. Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change.

On the other hand, technology has now advanced to the point where any economic disruption from transitioning to a cleaner, more efficient economy is shrinking by the day. Clean energy and energy efficiency aren’t just proving cost-effective, but also cost-saving. The unit costs of things like solar are coming down rapidly. But we’re still underinvesting in it.

Many of America’s biggest businesses recognize the opportunities and are seizing them. They’re choosing a new route. And a growing number of American homeowners are choosing to go solar every day. It works. All told, America’s economy has grown more than 60 percent over the last 20 years, but our carbon emissions are roughly back to where they were 20 years ago. So we know how to use less dirty fuel and grow our economy at the same time. But we’re not moving fast enough.

More Americans every day are doing their part, though. Thanks to their efforts, America will reach the emission target that I set six years ago. We’re going to reduce our carbon emissions in the range of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And that’s why, last year, I set a new target: America is going to reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 10 years from now.

And that was part of a historic joint announcement we made last year in Beijing. The United States will double the pace at which we cut our emissions, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting its emissions. Because the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters came together, we’re now seeing other nations stepping up aggressively as well. And I’m determined to make sure American leadership continues to drive international action — because we can’t do this alone. Even America and China together cannot do this alone. Even all the countries represented around here cannot do this alone. We have to do it together.

This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.

So let me sum up. We know that human activity is changing the climate. That is beyond dispute. Everything else is politics if people are denying the facts of climate change. We can have a legitimate debate about how we are going to address this problem; we cannot deny the science. We also know the devastating consequences if the current trend lines continue. That is not deniable. And we are going to have to do some adaptation, and we are going to have to help communities be resilient, because of these trend lines we are not going to be able to stop on a dime. We’re not going to be able to stop tomorrow.

But if those trend lines continue the way they are, there’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.

That’s one path we can take. The other path is to embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it. This is within our power. This is a solvable problem if we start now.

And we’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will — finally — to get moving.

So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. Those who want to ignore the science, they are increasingly alone. They’re on their own shrinking island. (Applause.)

And let’s remember, even beyond the climate benefits of pursuing cleaner energy sources and more resilient, energy-efficient ways of living, the byproduct of it is, is that we also make our air cleaner and safer for our children to breathe. We’re also making our economies more resilient to energy shocks on global markets. We’re also making our countries less reliant on unstable parts of the world. We are gradually powering a planet on its way to 9 billion humans in a more sustainable way.

These are good things. This is not simply a danger to be avoided; this is an opportunity to be seized. But we have to keep going. We’re making a difference, but we have to keep going. We are not moving fast enough.

If we were to abandon our course of action, if we stop trying to build a clean-energy economy and reduce carbon pollution, if we do nothing to keep the glaciers from melting faster, and oceans from rising faster, and forests from burning faster, and storms from growing stronger, we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair: Submerged countries. Abandoned cities. Fields no longer growing. Indigenous peoples who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millennia. Entire industries of people who can’t practice their livelihoods. Desperate refugees seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own. Political disruptions that could trigger multiple conflicts around the globe.

That’s not a future of strong economic growth. That is not a future where freedom and human rights are on the move. Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that — any

so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke — is not fit to lead.

On this issue, of all issues, there is such a thing as being too late. That moment is almost upon us. That’s why we’re here today. That’s what we have to convey to our people — tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And that’s what we have to do when we meet in Paris later this year. It will not be easy. There are hard questions to answer. I am not trying to suggest that there are not going to be difficult transitions that we all have to make. But if we unite our highest aspirations, if we make our best efforts to protect this planet for future generations, we can solve this problem.

And when you leave this conference center, I hope you look around. I hope you have the chance to visit a glacier. Or just look out your airplane window as you depart, and take in the God-given majesty of this place. For those of you flying to other parts of the world, do it again when you’re flying over your home countries. Remind yourself that there will come a time when your grandkids — and mine, if I’m lucky enough to have some — they’ll want to see this. They’ll want to experience it, just as we’ve gotten to do in our own lives. They deserve to live lives free from fear, and want, and peril. And ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to protect it. Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?

Let’s prove that we care about them and their long-term futures, not just short-term political expediency.

I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea, and the changes that are taking place — changing migratory patterns; the changing fauna so that what used to feed the animals that they, in turn, would hunt or fish beginning to vanish. It’s urgent for them today. But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.

Your presence here today indicates your recognition of that. But it’s not enough just to have conferences. It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We’ve got to walk the walk. We’ve got work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.

So, thank you. And may God bless all of you, and your countries. And thank you, Alaska, for your wonderful hospitality. Thank you. (Applause.)

Arctic Emergency: Scientists Speak

Lots to talk about here:

Published on Aug 1, 2014
Arctic Emergency: Scientists Speak On Melting Ice and Global Impacts (1080p HD)

This film brings you the voices of climate scientists – in their own words.

Rising temperatures in the Arctic are contributing the melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, and destabilization of a system that has been called “Earth’s Air Conditioner”.

Global warming is here and is impacting weather patterns, natural systems, and human life around the world – and the Arctic is central to these impacts.
Scientists featured in the film include:

– Jennifer Francis, PhD. Atmospheric Sciences
Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University.

– Ron Prinn, PhD. Chemistry
TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

– Natalia Shakhova, PhD. Marine Geology
International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

– Kevin Schaefer, PhD.
Research Scientist, National Snow and Ice Data Center.

– Stephen J. Vavrus, PhD. Atmospheric Sciences
Center for Climatic Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison

– Nikita Zimov, Northeast Science Station, Russian Academy of Sciences.

– Jorien Vonk, PhD. Applied Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University

– Jeff Masters, PhD. Meteorology
Director, Weather Underground

Arctic Ice and the Polar Vortex, #SochiSlush (Updated)

Everything is about ice these days, what with the Winter Olympics in full swing. Concerns that the temperatures at the mountain venue of Sochi would be problematically high have panned out; the lower parts of the downhill slopes are slushy and the bottom of the half-pipe is all bumbly wumply. Injuries and lost medal opportunities are mounting up every day, in part caused by the unusual “Spring” conditions.

We all know the Arctic Vortex has been sitting on the middle of North America, and this has caused near zero F temperatures, often as low as -20F, here in central Minnesota. The same weather pattern has been bringing interesting storms across the American South, including, apparently, a nasty ice storm for Georgia (the state, not the Republic) tonight. Meanwhile we hear of very warm weather in Alaska and Eurasia.

So, if the Polar Vortex is here in the Twin Cities (plus or minus some 1,500 miles or so), what is going on in the Arctic? Is the sea ice at a relatively low level at this time of year when it should be reaching a maximum? How have the temperatures been, say, in Greenland?

Before I show you, I have to warn you of two important things. First, this time of year, early February, is a bad time to predict the next summer’s sea ice melt. Likely, there will be plenty of melting, and we can say that simply because for the last decade that has been the new norm. But looking at the current and recent data on sea ice extent does not accurately predict the minimum sea ice extent in September, when it will likely be at its lowest. (Well, to be honest, I don’t actually know this prediction can’t be made but I’m pretty sure that’s right). The second, countervailing issue is this: Climate scientists who look at these things seem to be about evenly divided between those who think we may have some sort of El Nino late this year, vs. not. This would determine in part warmer vs. cooler conditions generally. So, this post has to be regarded as highly speculative.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has a nice “Interactive Sea Ice Graph” that you can play with to look at past years’ march of ice melting and re-freezing on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. Here, I’ve selected the base graph which has the average from 1981-2010 plus or minus 2 standard deviations (in gray) and the data so far for 2014. As you can see, we are at the lower end of the 2SD range.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 8.39.15 PM

Meanwhile, the Dark Snow Project blog has a post by Jason Box with this interesting graph:


Those are temperature anomalies in the Arctic region over the first 30-something days of this year. This shows unusual warmth. Now, compare that to a different graph from the same site:


That is “…the US for the region bounded by 70 to 105 longitude west and 38 to 55 latitude north.” In other words, that’s where the Arctic Vortex has been hanging out. So, yes, as I’ve mentioned before, the Arctic cold is here, not up in the Arctic. Up in the Arctic it is relatively warm. Jason also has this map showing the pattern using a different graphical technique. Remember, these are anomalies, departures from a 1981-2010 baseline, not absolute temperatures.

Temperature_2014_33-37_anom-1024x951 (1)

Go to the original post to get huge giant versions of these graphics.

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog has a lot more on the current situation. Also, Jason Box has this video released a few days ago and written up at Climate Denial Crock of the Week:

I repeat, it is too early to say what is going to happen during this year’s melt in the Arctic. But, this is a good time to start observing, as we will be passing typical peak sea ice in just under a month.

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

From NASA:

PASADENA, Calif. – An international team of experts supported by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has combined data from multiple satellites and aircraft to produce the most comprehensive and accurate assessment to date of ice sheet losses in Greenland and Antarctica and their contributions to sea level rise.

In a landmark study published Thursday in the journal Science, 47 researchers from 26 laboratories report the combined rate of melting for the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica has increased during the last 20 years. Together, these ice sheets are losing more than three times as much ice each year (equivalent to sea level rise of 0.04 inches or 0.95 millimeters) as they were in the 1990s (equivalent to 0.01 inches or 0.27 millimeters). About two-thirds of the loss is coming from Greenland, with the rest from Antarctica.


From the abstract of the paper:

We combined an ensemble of satellite altimetry, interferometry, and gravimetry data sets using common geographical regions, time intervals, and models of surface mass balance and glacial isostatic adjustment to estimate the mass balance of Earth’s polar ice sheets. We find that there is good agreement between different satellite methods—especially in Greenland and West Antarctica—and that combining satellite data sets leads to greater certainty. Between 1992 and 2011, the ice sheets of Greenland, East Antarctica, West Antarctica, and the Antarctic Peninsula changed in mass by –142 ± 49, +14 ± 43, –65 ± 26, and –20 ± 14 gigatonnes year?1, respectively. Since 1992, the polar ice sheets have contributed, on average, 0.59 ± 0.20 millimeter year?1 to the rate of global sea-level rise.

The melting since about 1992 to the present has contributed to about 0.44 inches of sea level rise (about a fifth of the sea level rise over that period, and there was sea level rise prior to 1992 as well). The main outcome of this study is to clean up the predictions from previous models with much better data and to narrow down the best predictions for future melting. Also, the pace of ice loss now is greater than it was at the beginning of the study period, 20 years ago. Greenland is losing ice about 500% faster now than it was in the early 1990s, while Antarctica is losing ice at about the same rate now as it was then.

UPDATE: See also this post from the LA Times

Shepherd, A., Ivins, E., A, G., Barletta, V., Bentley, M., Bettadpur, S., Briggs, K., Bromwich, D., Forsberg, R., Galin, N., Horwath, M., Jacobs, S., Joughin, I., King, M., Lenaerts, J., Li, J., Ligtenberg, S., Luckman, A., Luthcke, S., McMillan, M., Meister, R., Milne, G., Mouginot, J., Muir, A., Nicolas, J., Paden, J., Payne, A., Pritchard, H., Rignot, E., Rott, H., Sorensen, L., Scambos, T., Scheuchl, B., Schrama, E., Smith, B., Sundal, A., van Angelen, J., van de Berg, W., van den Broeke, M., Vaughan, D., Velicogna, I., Wahr, J., Whitehouse, P., Wingham, D., Yi, D., Young, D., & Zwally, H. (2012). A Reconciled Estimate of Ice-Sheet Mass Balance Science, 338 (6111), 1183-1189 DOI: 10.1126/science.1228102

Photo of icebergs in Disko Bay, Greenland from NASA