Monday, November 28, 2011

Change in Arctic More than Just Science

I have been following trends in the Arctic for quite some time now but two recent stories have caught my eye as reported in the Arctic Portal, a great source for Arctic news-

I hear the arguments going on all the time in the lower 48. Skeptics versus scientists and all the "real"
people who live and work in the Arctic get lost and forgotten in this senseless debate. I firmly believe in the struggles of the real people and animals who live and work in the region to tell the story of a changing Arctic in a different but much more effective way than the scientists who produce effective but sometimes confusing data.

The two stories here offer real-life data in real time documenting the on-going future and trends in the
once frozen region:

Climate Change Leading to Starving Dogs 

Lack of ice is hindering hunting in Greenland. Humans are not the only one who rely on hunting in, the dogs in Qaanaaq are starving.

The weather and climate change are causing problems in Greenland. Five years ago the sea ice had frozen in early November, making hunting for dog food easy, hunting both seals and fish.
This year it is unforeseen when the ice will freeze.

Northern Sea Route Closes for the Season

The Northern Sea Route shipping season is now over. New ice forming in the Arctic ocean hinders any more shipping. This is the longest shipping season ever, one month longer then last year.

The Perseverance was both the first and last vessel this year to go the route, the first one was the 29th of June and the last one today. The ship transported stable gas condensate from Murmansk in Russia to China, with the help of a Russian icebreaker. Russia’s Ministry of Transport believes cargo transport through the NSR will increase from 1.8 million tons in 2010 to 64 million tons by 2020.

Need any more proof that the Arctic is now open for business? The sad story from this is that the native peoples of the region will have a harder time sustaining themselves with the on-going
changes to their new environment.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Arctic Ice Reaches Summer Minimum

According the NSIDC (National Snow and Ice Data Center) the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached its lowest extent for the year. The minimum ice extent was the second lowest in the satellite record, after 2007, and continues the decadal trend of rapidly decreasing summer sea ice.

Conditions in context:
The last five years (2007 to 2011) have been the five lowest extents in the continuous satellite record, which extends back to 1979. While the record low year of 2007 was marked by a combination of weather conditions that favored ice loss (including clearer skies, favorable wind patterns, and warm temperatures), this year has shown more typical weather patterns but continued warmth over the Arctic. This supports the idea that the Arctic sea ice cover is continuing to thin. Models and remote sensing data also indicate this is the case.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Arctic Ice Loss in August

August 2011 compared to previous years.
Average Arctic sea ice extent for August 2011 was the second-lowest for August in the satellite data record. Including 2011 the linear trend for August now stands at –9.3% per decade.

The Northern Sea Route and NW Passage are simultaneously open. The door is open for commerce in the north and many countries are taking advantage of this. This new trend should be another sign and confirmation that climate change in rapidly changing the earth's environments.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Massive Change in Greenland Ice

By Ian Johnston 2011-09-01T14:43:21

New photographs taken of a vast glacier in northern Greenland have revealed the astonishing rate of the glacial breakup, with one scientist saying he was rendered "speechless."

"The break-off last year is bigger than anything seen for at least 150 years," glacial researcher Alun Hubbard said.

Taken nearly two years apart, the photos show the extent of the ice loss. The channel is about ten miles wide. Scientists returned in July this year and found the ice had been melting so quickly that some of their research masts stuck into the glacier were no longer in position. Hubbard, who has been working with Jason Box, of Ohio State University, and others, said in a statement issued by the Byrd Polar Research Center that scientists were still trying to work out how fast the glacier was moving and the effect on the ice sheet feeding the glacier.

"Although I knew what to expect in terms of ice loss from satellite imagery, I was still completely unprepared for the gob-smacking scale of the break-up, which rendered me speechless," he said in the statement. "I'm very familiar with the glacier. It's very hard to sort of envisage something so big not being there ... to come back and basically see an ice shelf has disappeared, which is 20 kilometers across (about 12 miles) ... I was speechless and started laughing because I couldn't sort of believe it," Hubbard added, speaking to

"This region (northern Greenland) is experiencing temperatures which are abnormally warm ... I think the far northwest of Greenland is seeing a kind of new regime of climate," he added.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Northwest Passage Wide Open

The infamous Northwest Passage is wide open again and small boats are pushing through both from the east and the west. I have had reports of 11 documented vessels making the attempt currently with no doubt a few others that will pop up on the radar screen in the weeks to come.

The passage opened early this year year with unprecedented melting through July. The melting slowed briefly but now a large high pressure system is parked over the area and sunny days will no doubt thin any remaining ice. The ice has even disappeared north of Resolute and Lancaster Sound allowing exploring of regions north which have been inaccessible to now.

The only question remaining now is how far and wide will the melt continue this season? The melt season extends through September and there is a very real chance that this year could mark another epic year of ice loss comparable or exceeding the record year of 2007 when we on Cloud Nine made our east-west transit.

I will be watching ice charts and keeping close watch. If you are interested in further details, watch the posting here or contact me personally through the website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arctic Ice Loss Linked to Human Activity

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: About half of the recent record loss of Arctic sea ice can be blamed on global warming caused by human activity, a leading climate research centre has found.

The study, funded by the US National Science Foundation is the first to attribute a specific proportion of the ice melt to greenhouse gases and pollution.

It used one of the world's most sophisticated climate models to reach its conclusions, said lead author Jennifer Kay, a scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. The paper was published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"There's no doubt about it - sea ice is going away," she said. "What we found was that about half of that trend is related to the increasing greenhouse gases."

The study said the melting of the ice pack was no short-term fluke but an actual change in climate.

Earlier research determined greenhouse gases were responsible for some loss of sea ice, but no one had been able to establish how big a part they played.

Read more:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tundra Burning

This is an amazing story from the Arctic tundra which I had not heard before. Reported on NPR this morning with the long story in the magazine "Nature." Image by Alaska Fire Service.

"The Arctic tundra has been relatively thunderstorm-free for 10,000 years. But conditions are changing in the far north, and in 2007 a lightning strike caused the biggest wildfire ever recorded on the North Slope of Alaska. The tundra is normally a carbon sink, but scientists report in the journal Nature that that single fire released more carbon into the atmosphere than the entire Arctic tundra absorbs every year."

Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 Arctic Summer Ice Melt

As with recent summers past, the Arctic is continuing to warm and it looks like the cycle is repeating itself again this summer with huge losses of ice coming up and maybe even nearing the record loss of ice in the 2007 season when we made our transit of the NW Passage from east to west on Cloud Nine.

The National Snow and Ice Center is one of the foremost "legitimate" data collectors in
the ice business and here is their most recent report as of today:

Early sea ice melt onset, snow cover retreat indicates rapid 2011 summer decline. NSIDC

Arctic sea ice extent declined at a rapid pace through the first half of July, and is now tracking below the year 2007, which saw the record minimum September extent. The rapid decline in the past few weeks is related to persistent above-average temperatures and an early start to melt. Snow cover over Northern Eurasia was especially low in May and June, continuing the pattern seen in April.

This will be an interesting summer and early fall to track and I will keep you posted here. No doubt there will be a record number of small boats again trying for the "ice-free" Northwest Passage.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Linkage- Vatican and Dalai Lama- Big Climate Voices

Catholic Church and Dalai Lama now agree with the scientific community...

VATICAN CITY By NICOLE WINFIELD (AP)-- A Vatican-appointed panel of scientists has reported what climate change experts have been warning for years: the Earth is getting warmer, glaciers are melting, and urgent measures are necessary to stem the damage.

The scientists called for urgent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and reductions in methane and other pollutants that warm the air, and for improved observation of mountain glaciers to better track their changes.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a Vatican advisory panel, hosted a conference last month on the causes and consequences of retreating mountain glaciers. Its final report, dated May 5 and signed by independent glaciologists, climate scientists, meteorologists and chemists, was posted on the Vatican website Tuesday.

"We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home," the report said.

"We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dalai Lama and Himalayan Glaciers

NEW DELHI (AP) -- The Dalai Lama said Saturday that India should be seriously concerned about the melting of glaciers in the Tibetan plateau as millions of Indians use water that comes from there.

The Tibetan spiritual leader quoted Chinese experts as saying that the Tibetan glaciers were retreating faster than any elsewhere in the world.

He called for special attention to ecology in Tibet. "It's something very, very essential," he said.

The glaciers are considered vital lifelines for Asian rivers, including the Indus and the Ganges. Once they vanish, water supplies in those regions will be threatened.

As these major rivers come from the Tibetan plateau and "since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glacier, so you have certain right to show your concern about ecology of that plateau," the Dalai Lama told an audience of about 400 Indians.

"India, a free country, I think should express more serious concern, that's I think important. This is nothing to do with politics, just everybody's interest, including Chinese people also," he said.

Rising demand has put a strain on access to freshwater in India and China – which are home to more than a third of the world's population.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ethanol Subsidies and Production

Time for more "real" debate on energy alternatives. Our Senator from Iowa, Charles Grassley, has been a huge proponent of ethanol and there is no arguing that it has been a good thing for putting cash in midwest farmers' pockets, but at what cost to our environment again? And is it really doing anything to help ween us off fossil fuels?

True cost economics says no way. We continue to put our soil resources to maximum use sending top soil down stream along with more farm chemicals creating a bigger dead zone in the Gulf, growing a renewable food source for unnecessary energy offsets and all the time subsidizing this with billions of taxpayer dollars.

Really people, time for some efficiency. Drill baby drill is not the answer, nor is ethanol, nor are more nuclear plants, coal plants. Efficiency and conservation are the bridges we need now. Better fuel efficiency, for example. An increase of 1 mpg fuel efficiency offsets all the potential oil which could be extracted from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and then we not only keep the refuge pristine, we keep that oil as a real strategic reserve for a time when it may be truly needed not just to keep us in "cheap" gas and oil.

From the Des Moines Register opinion page article on Grassley's ethanol argument:

Energy Security, by the Environmental Working Group

"In 2010 America burned about 12.8 billion gallons of ethanol. But since a gallon of ethanol yields one-third less energy than gasoline, we reduced gasoline consumption only 8.7 billion gallons. We could achieve the same degree of "security" at no cost to taxpayers by increasing average fuel efficiency by just 1.5 miles per gallon. Simply keeping tires properly inflated would do that. The $5.8 billion a year that taxpayers give oil companies to blend ethanol with gasoline buys no real security gains."

This is an example of the real and bigger discussion which needs to take place around energy issues.

Friday, March 18, 2011

MIT Finally Comes Around

MIT has been a mixed bag when it comes to climate science but finally seems to be
coming to a scientific consensus with a new joint study of the earth's climate...

M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C
February 23, 2009

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change has joined the climate realists. The realists are the growing group of scientists who understand that the business as usual emissions path leads to unmitigated catastrophe (see, for instance, “Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and below).

The Program issued a remarkable, though little-remarked-on, report in January, “Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century Climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions (without Policy) and Climate Parameters,” by over a dozen leading experts. They reanalyzed their model’s 2003 projections model using the latest data, and concluded:

The MIT Integrated Global System Model is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100. Since the model’s first projections were published in 2003 substantial improvements have been made to the model and improved estimates of the probability distributions of uncertain input parameters have become available. The new projections are considerably warmer than the 2003 projections, e.g., the median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 is 5.1°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ice Sheet Melt Becomes Major Concern

This is fascinating science. I am not surprised by this and it tracks with everything which I have been witnessing in 20 years of polar travel.

Research from Geographical Research Letters, Posted By Joanna Zelman, 03/10/11

Ice sheets are now the largest contributor to rising sea levels, a new report has found. If ice sheets continue to melt at their current rates, sea levels may rise over 12 inches in the next four decades.

The study was conducted over the course of 20 years, and the results will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The group of researchers examined monthly satellite measurements between 1992 and 2009, using climate model data. The research shows that in 2006, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets lost a combined mass of 475 gigatonnes -- this ice loss can raise the global sea level by 1.3 millimeters per year.

Ice sheets are melting at a steadily increasing rate. Over the course of the study, the ice sheets lost about an additional 36 gigatonnes per year, compared to each year before.

Melting ice caps have often taken the spotlight, but melting ice sheets are now dwindling at a faster rate than the ice caps and glaciers. Though melting ice caps are certainly worthy of concern, their rate of loss has been three times smaller than the acceleration rate at which ice sheets are melting.

The report’s lead author, Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is not surprised that ice sheets will now contribute the most to sea level rise. But, Rignot remarks, “What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening.

How would these rising sea levels affect us? Another recent study, reported in the journal Climate Change Letters, shows that rising sea levels may threaten 180 U.S. cities by 2100.

U.N. reports have predicted that because of climate change, the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. That’s less than 10 years from now.

As ice sheets melt at a faster pace, environmental refugees flee their homes, and major cities sink underwater, will climate change finally be taken seriously by everyone?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Permafrost Melt Soon Irreversible

During the Around the Americas expedition in 2009-10, the crew of Ocean Watch spent time with researchers in the Barrow, AK, tundra. Permafrost is a huge area of concern with climate change as so much of the earth's methane has been locked in the frost and stored, releasing slowly. The article below is troubling indeed...

Published on Sunday, February 20, 2011 by Inter Press Service
by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE - Thawing permafrost is threatening to overwhelm attempts to keep the planet from getting too hot for human survival.

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as much as two-thirds of the world's gigantic storehouse of frozen carbon could be released, a new study reported. That would push global temperatures several degrees higher, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable.

Once the Arctic gets warm enough, the carbon and methane emissions from thawing permafrost will kick-start a feedback that will amplify the current warming rate, says Kevin Schaefer, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. That will likely be irreversible.

And we're less than 20 years from this tipping point. Schaefer prefers to use the term "starting point" for when the 13 million square kilometres of permafrost in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe becomes a major new source of carbon emissions.

"Our model projects a starting point 15 to 20 years from now," Schaefer told IPS.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Arctic Current Warmer than for 2,000 years

Tuesday, 08 February 2011 Reuters

The North Atlantic current flowing into the Arctic Ocean is warmer than for at least 2,000 years in a sign that global warming is likely to bring ice-free seas around the North Pole in summers, a study showed. Scientists said that waters at the northern end of the Gulf Stream, between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, averaged 6 degrees Celsius (42.80F) in recent summers, warmer than at natural peaks during Roman or Medieval times.

"The temperature is unprecedented in the past 2,000 years," lead author Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, told Reuters of the study in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

The summer water temperatures, reconstructed from the makeup of tiny organisms buried in sediments in the Fram strait, have risen from an average 5.2 degrees Celsius (41.36F) from 1890-2007 and about 3.4C (38.12F) in the previous 1,900 years. The findings were a new sign that human activities were stoking modern warming since temperatures are above past warm periods linked to swings in the sun's output that enabled, for instance, the Vikings to farm in Greenland in Medieval times.

"We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds," Thomas Marchitto, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the authors, said in a statement. The Fram strait is the main carrier of ocean heat to the Arctic.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Black Carbon is Big Problem

Whether it is in our oceans or deposited in our lungs, on the snow-capped Rockies or Arctic ice, Black Carbon is one of the major problems on the planet in regards to change in climate and health.

We met scientists at the UCSD's Scripps Institute working on low tech solutions for the developing countries.

In a story by Martin Kaste on NPR, here is some of the story...

Almost half the world still cooks its food with solid fuels, such as wood and charcoal.

The results are deforestation and black carbon, which contributes to global warming. And smoke-related disease kills an estimated 1.6 million people a year.

Read more-

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Ice Diminishes

The least sea ice in 800 years
Friday, 03 July 2009 09:01

New research, conducted by the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and published in the scientific journal Climate Dynamics, maintains that the sea ice in the Arctic sea between Greenland and Svalbard has reached the smallest size it has been in 800 years.

The research combined information about the climate found in ice cores from an ice cap on Svalbard and from the annual growth rings of trees in Finland. The data about the ice cover was gathered from the logbooks of whaling- and fishing ships dating back to the 16th century as well as from records from harbors in Iceland, where the sea ice coverage has been recorded since the end of the 18th century. By combining these two sets of information the researchers were able to track the sea ice all the way back to the 13th century.

The sea ice has been at the minimum also before, first in the late 13th century and later in the mid 17th and mid 18th century. The researchers maintain, however, that these periods were in no case as persistent as the decline of the sea ice in the 20th century when the ice diminished 300 000 square km in ten years. The sea ice has been at its largest from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, during a period called the Little Ice Age.

From the Arctic Portal website (great website for Arctic news)-

Friday, January 28, 2011

Alaska Marine Science Symposium - Polar Bears

Ocean Watch Captain Mark Schrader was recently in Alaska and came across this amazing polar bear story which quite frankly has stretched my imagination to a new extreme. This is the new world of the polar bear...

"Between 26 August and 4 September, 2008, a radio collared adult female polar bear swam 687 km through ice-free waters north from the Alaskan Beaufort Sea coast to offshore pack ice. The bear then intermittently swam or walked on the sea ice surface an additional 1800 km until her recapture on the Beaufort Sea coast on 26 October 2008. During the 687 km swim, collar activity sensors and GPS data showed that the bear swam CONTINUOUSLY without rest for 232 hours. During the 9 day swim her body temperature declined and between her first capture and subsequent recapture she lost 22% of her body weight and lost her yearling cub."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sea Warming Effects Cod

Scandinavian sea may get too warm for cod

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO | Tue Jan 18, 2011 1:30am IST

OSLO (Reuters) - Climate change could make a sea in southern Scandinavia too warm for Atlantic cod and rising water temperatures may be stunting the growth of young fish, a study showed on Monday.

The report, drawing on records since 1919 of more than 100,000 juvenile cod caught and measured in the Skagerrak area off south Norway, gives some of the most detailed evidence yet of how global warming may affect commercial fish stocks.

More on the 2010 Heat/Extremes

GENEVA — The warmest year on record is a three-way tie: 2010, 2005 and 1998.

So says the U.N. weather agency, providing further evidence Thursday that the planet is slowly but surely heating up.

Average temperatures globally last year were 0.95 degrees Fahrenheit (0.53 Celsius) higher than the 1961-90 mean that is used for comparison purposes, according to World Meteorological Organization.

"The 2010 data confirm the Earth's significant long-term warming trend," said Michel Jarraud, WMO's top official. He added that the ten warmest years after records began in 1854 have all occurred since 1998.

But rising global temperatures over the last century are causing climate experts to worry. Most atmospheric scientists attribute the change to carbon dioxide and gases released into the air by gasoline-burning engines and other industrial processes. The gases tend to trap heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse.

The Geneva-based global weather agency noted that last year's extreme weather – notably the heat wave in Russia and monsoon flooding in Pakistan – has continued into the new year. It also cited the heavy floods in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Brazil and Australia as examples.

The year 2010 also was the wettest on record, according to the Global Historical Climatology Network. But since rain and snowfall patterns varied greatly around the world, scientists say more research is needed to establish a link between the warmer temperatures with the unusual moisture.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Record Heat Again, Especially in the Arctic

NOAA Report by Doyle Rice, USA Today

2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record, according to data released today by the National Climatic Data Center. Records began in 1880. The Earth's temperature was 1.12 degrees F above the 20th-century average, which was the same as 2005.

It was the 34th-consecutive year that the global temperature were above average, according to the data center. The last below-average year was 1976.
The global land surface temperatures for 2010 were the warmest on record at 1.8 F above the 20th-century average.

Warmer-than-average temperatures occurred for most of the world's surface. The warmest temperatures occurred throughout the high-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Canada, Alaska, the tropical Atlantic Ocean, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and northern Africa.

Nine of the Earth's 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, and all 12 of the warmest years have occurred since 1997.

The satellite data shows that the globe continues to warm unevenly, with warming increasing as you go north: The Arctic Ocean has warmed an average of almost 3 degrees in the past 32 years.