This chart shows daily Arctic sea ice extent for selected years (2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016) for the calendar window from approximately January 15th through March 26th each year. The color-codes for the lines representing each year are noted in the index; the heavy black line (highest plot) represents an average for all years 1981-2010. The gray background band represents a range of +/-2 standard deviations for the 1981-2010 dataset.
For each calendar year, there is a date at which the peak Arctic sea ice extent is reached. Following that date, sea ice extent declines until reaching an annual cyclical bottom, typically in mid- to late- September. Vertical red lines have been added to help see the dates of peak sea ice extent. The ‘average’ date for peak ice, as suggested by the 1981-2010 average plot, is March 13th. Note that the peak for 2015 was the earliest on record: February 25th. Now, for this year, as of February 17th, the Arctic sea ice extent is 14.203 square kilometers. We are at an all-time low record, and nearly 2% below last year, when we had 14.469 square kilometers extent.
So far this year, the sea ice extent has set new records for three different time periods: January 3-9, February 2-6, and for the past week (starting on February 11). This data offers yet one more indicator suggesting that we are imposing very rapid and very significant warming onto our planet, with a consequence of accelerated polar ice melting.
2-18-2016: No Winter For the Arctic in 2016 — NASA Marks Hottest January Ever Recorded
Of the many adverse impacts caused by aviation, the slowest to set in is likely climate change, as will eventually follow from our excessive consumption of fossil fuels. One of the points emphasized within this website is that aviation, with very high fuel burn rates needed to power aircraft, has an exceptionally high rate of CO2 generation per minute. Another key point is that the ‘decision’ to travel by air is exceptionally discretionary. In other words, in the largest analysis we do not have to travel long distances, but it has been our cultural habit that ‘we choose to’, and in so doing we generate a very substantial CO2 impact in a short period of time. Seemingly, if we ever get serious about reducing our CO2 generation, aviation is a logical first target – the easy-to-pick low-hanging fruit. An easy adjustment to our cultural habit will be to significantly reduce air travel, and also ensure our aviation regulators are disincentivizing fuel-inefficient practices such as trips via hubs off the direct route, or use of over-congested airports.
Regular measurements of the level of atmospheric CO2 began in the late 1950s. The Keeling Curve is broadly accepted as the original and longest standing CO2 chart, depicting daily readings near the summit of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Here is a recent screen capture of the Keeling Curve, posted by Scripps:At the Scripps website, the chart is viewable in a variety of timeframes. The above is a 2-year view, showing readings from mid-February 2014 through 2/15/2016. The curve is striking in its regularity, and in the consistent sawtooth pattern that has been climbing roughly two parts per million each year. On this image, lines have been added (red, and orange) to aid in quantifying year-to-year changes. The annual changes are then quantified, using red numbers (e.g., “+2.0”). The four annual changes, in sequence, are:
peak 2014 to peak 2015 (approx. 5/20/2015):+2.0 ppm
trough 2014 to trough 2015 (approx. 9/25/2015): +2.7 ppm
January 1, 2015 to January 1, 2016:+3.0 ppm
February 1, 2015 to February 1, 2016:+3.1ppm.
This would appear to show a substantial acceleration has occurred since last May. We will know better in another year, if it is a data anomaly or the leading edge of a major shift. If it is the latter, we can expect further acceleration of polar ice melts, sea rise, and weather intensification and ‘weirding’.
The case for a unified action against climate change may soon become more urgent.
One U.S. Corporation, AT&T, Warned Us About Climate Change in 1958
Sixty years ago, CO2 was not even an issue. There were some scientists thinking ahead and stating it might eventually become an issue, but it was not until the late 1950s that we even developed a means to accurately measure atmospheric CO2, to document trends from year to year. Surprisingly, one of those early ‘scientists’ was actually a ‘scientist character’ in a science film directed by Frank Capra. Mr. Capra is familiar to many who have watched classic movies he directed in the 1930s and 1940s, such as ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, both starring James Stewart. Mr. Capra earned his college degree at Cal Tech, after studying chemical engineering. He got into the film industry and was successful, winning three ‘Best Director’ Oscars by 1938. When World War II broke out, Mr. Capra enlisted in the Army, where he helped create propaganda films. In the mid-1950s, he was hired by the original telecommunications giant, AT&T, to produce the first four in a series of nine educational films called ‘The Bell Laboratory Science Series’. These 16mm films were widely distributed to schools, free of charge. Estimates are that, by the late 1960s, five million school children and a half million college students had watched these films.
The fourth film by Mr. Capra was released in 1958, the same year FAA was created by Congress. ‘Unchained Goddess’ presents a discussion between a scientist and a writer, rehearsing for their science TV show. Their work area includes a ‘magic screen’ upon which animation appears. Part of that animation is a set of weather gods, including Meteora, the Goddess of Weather. The interactions with the magic screen and the animated figures aids in explaining all sorts of weather phenomena, while also showing weather equipment and the labor-intensive work of technicians at the National Weather Analysis Center.Here’s a 2-minute clip focused on the portion most relevant today, where Mr. Capra’s scientist offers the 1958 view of possible consequences of global warming:
A Series of Embedded Videos:
Isaac Asimov, speaking in January 1989 (~2-minutes):
A short film from perhaps 3-5 years ago, featuring the start of “Unchained Goddess’, followed by a plausible documentary looking back from the year 2053 (6-minutes)…
…and an image within this film, showing rising seas inundating the southeast:
Lastly, the complete 1958 film by Frank Capra (55-minutes):
A storm for the record books, Jonas is also understood to be an indication of storms to come. And, it is not a stretch to understand the cause and effect – the link between these extreme weather events and our energy consumption habits:
excessive fossil fuel consumption, causes…
…excessive greenhouse gas accumulation, causes…
…geologically rapid and substantial temperature increases, causes…
…a more energized weather system, with more heat energy and larger amounts of water vapor, causes…
…more violently-interacting air masses (hence, intensified weather).
So, in the course of just a few human generations, we are literally destroying the habitability of our waters and our air. And aviation is very much at the heart of this problem. Not only is aviation arguably the poster-child of excessive and arbitrary energy consumption, but this industry also relies heavily on fossil fuel consumption (and it does us no real benefit to take food crops out of production to grow biofuels for aviation!). Thus, our best political leaders (if we have any?!) will take note: aviation is perhaps the most logical first target within the transportation sector, for meaningful action to address our growing problem of excessive atmospheric CO2.
Weather & Aviation
Aviation safety has always depended on accurate and detailed weather predictions and observations. The international system for recording weather observations is METAR. METAR observations are recorded at least once per hour at most U.S. airports, and more frequently when conditions are changing or marginal. Although the intricate coding may feel a bit ‘geeky’, it is not difficult to learn to read METARs; see Reference Materials for Decoding METARs.
July 22, 2013: Dangerous crosswinds and tailwinds contributed to this high-speed landing and nose gear collapse for a Southwest KLGA arrival.
METARs are also an excellent resource to use, to help predict the flow configurations and thus the likely impacts on your home or community, as caused by your local airport. ATC constantly refers to METARs to make runway change decisions. In most cases, ATC selects a runway configuration that is aligned into the wind, to maximize safety. At some of the most congested airports though (LGA and JFK come to mind), FAA’s failure to stop excessive airline scheduling has created barriers to runway changes, and has thus created unsafe landing conditions. These conditions have contributed to incidents, sometimes with injuries or worse. One example: the July 22, 2013 crash of Southwest Flight #345 while landing at La Guardia.
DIY: Viewing METARs Online
Most of the larger snow-impacted airports include snowfall and accumulated snow depth in their METAR observations. The METAR observations, recorded 3-times per hour during most of this weather event, offer a fascinating and precise insight into the weather severity.
Here is a summary of snowfall totals and snow history for the ten largest commercial service airports, listed from north to south. For each airport, three blue links include the aiREFORM airport page, the current METAR (showing the last 168 observations), and the NOAA forecast:
Snowfall first reported at 12:59pm Friday, ended 36-hours later at 12:52 am Sunday. Snow Depth reached 18-inches. Peak winds 29 gusting to 43.METAR – Forecast
And, here is a compilation of the METARs for all ten airports, converted into a scrollable PDF file:
This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.
Next Up: The Melting
The initial snowfall and winds are just Part One of this weather event. Part Two will soon play out, as the accumulated snowfall melts and eventually flows away. Depending on how much (and how quickly) temperatures warm up, and how much rain falls onto the accumulated snow, there may be local flooding, ponding, and other problems. Airport conditions could remain untenable for many days.
One of the most important measures of significant climate change is Arctic sea ice extent. Associated with the recent extreme/weird weather events during the last week of 2015, we had an intense low pressure system with hurricane force winds blow north over Iceland, and heating the North Pole surface air to above freezing. This happened, of course, during a time of year when the North Pole is normally in the middle of a 6-month stretch of cold darkness, spanning from the Fall Equinox to the Spring Equinox.
One consequence of this warm air blast is that Arctic sea ice extent flat-lined at 12.8 million square kilometers (of surface area with at least 15% ice coverage). To the right is a graph showing sea ice extent, with colored lines depicting the years from 2005-2016. This graph actually fuses two smaller graph fragments, both copied from NSIDC; on the left half is the graph for the last days of the year, and on the right is the graph for the first days of the year. The light gray background represents two standard deviations below the 1981-2010 average value (thick black line, near the top of the graph).
The right end of the flat red line marks January 4th. This is a record low sea ice extent, even below the previous record for 2011 (orange line). A significant concern with this low ice level is that, come Spring, there may be far less accumulated ice to melt, in both area extent and ice thickness. This may result in a rapid melt off, setting new low records through the Summer, beating the previous low records set in 2012. The minimal Arctic sea ice extent reliably occurs around September 15th each year.
The evidence of climate change is profound – and quite scary, too. So much so that many choose to ignore it, or may be simply psychologically unable to accept it.
Here is a 44-minute video, Abrupt Climate Change 2015 Information. The video is loaded with images and comments by scientists and climatologists, including Guy McPherson, Paul Beckwith, Natalia Shackhova, Eric Rignot and others. It is a sobering video, well worth a critical viewing:
And, here is a PDF with five images selected from the video:
This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.
Of course, we all hope that the content of this video is exaggerated. Our problem, though, is it may instead be underestimating the severity of our looming situation. So, let’s demand action by our elected officials – and the delegates at COP21. Let’s also hope that the COP21 delegates flew to Paris to do their important work, not just to spend two weeks vacationing in Paris. They must not ignore this potential climate change disaster; they need to proceed aggressively, so as to protect our one planet for the next generation.
“It turns out, we can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet with no consequences.”
– Guy McPherson’s opening comment in ‘Abrupt Climate Change 2015 Information’
There’s No Tomorrow – a 35-minute YouTube animation video by Incubate Pictures, in association with Post Carbon Institute. Offers a very informative, straight-forward explanation of the geology, economics, history and politics, starting with the climate that created fossil fuels (and mass extinctions) 90 million years ago, and arriving at our current accelerated return to that lethal hothouse environment.
Thousands of delegates – and well over a hundred heads of state – all flew to Paris for COP21. Did they fly just to make an appearance, saying one thing but acting another? Or, did they fly with authentic intent, to get down to business and finally (after two+ decades of senseless delays!) take real action to address the looming climate change problem? Time will tell.
(click on image to watch video of President Obama’s 14-minute speech)
On the first day, nearly 150 heads of state were present. U.S. President Barack Obama, who recently decided against a portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, offered his opening remarks. At 6:08 in the video, President Obama echoes the core message from his first presidential campaign, saying: “One of the enemies that we’ll be fighting at this conference is cynicism, the notion we can’t do anything about climate change. Our progress should give us hope, during these two weeks. Hope that is rooted in collective action.”
‘Hope and Change’, just like in 2008, when he won the presidential race. For our planetary environment today, ‘Hope and Change’ means moving past the delays and inaction we have watched for far too long. Our broken political system, and the elected officials who appear to benefit from that broken system, are enabling this worsening failure. So maybe, finally, after too many years of costly delay, President Obama and other leaders can help us take action to address the looming climate change disaster.
OK, so we do not know with absolute certainty to what extent we are endangering the livability of our planet: what will happen, how bad it will be, and how soon. And, the situation (steadily climbing record levels of CO2, record polar ice melt, extreme weather events, regional droughts, ocean dead-zones, etc.) empowers some to create very scary doomsday scenarios. But, what is with the head-in-the-sand reaction? Why are so many of us so inclined to agree with the paid-for denialism and obvious ‘delay-delay-delay’ strategy pushed by our elected officials, while choosing to ignore the accumulated wisdom and technical expertise of our scientists? Why are so many of us so lacking in critical-thinking skills, so easily duped by shills who are clearly being paid by Big Oil to do nothing but seed confusion?
How about this: let’s grant the majority of scientists the credit they deserve. Let’s accept that their concerns may be valid, that we are overdue for making drastic reductions in our CO2 emissions, and let’s get serious about taking real and decisive action. A good place to start would be aviation. Why?
because aviation depends heavily on fossil fuel consumption (and creating other carbon-based aviation fuels by converting food-growing farmlands into biofuel-growing farmlands is NOTa viable solution!).
because aviation is generally a discretionary (luxury?) activity, in which individuals and corporations benefit with time savings, but at a serious carbon pollution cost. Aviation is at the top of the list, as the activity with the highest rate of fossil fuel consumption.
because in the context of the entire planet, aviation is an activity enjoyed primarily by an elite few. I.e., the majority of the world DOES NOT use aviation. It is thus fair that the full costs of the environmental damages imposed on Earth’s atmosphere should be paid by those who reap the benefits of aviation.
because the people who most frequently use aviation are commonly hyper-consumers, who tend to consume not just energy but also raw materials at rates far above the world average. As such, habit-changes toward lower personal consumption rates, as acquired via aviation, may spill over, producing a positive, multiplier-effect, accelerating beneficial changes for the planetary environment.
because aviation is an ideal (and largely isolated) component of the larger modern economy, with a regulatory structure that facilitates rapid deployment of new standards and procedures. As such, what we learn in modifying the aviation industry can help us to quickly implement improvements in other economic sectors, too.
On November 6th, President Obama announced his decision to kill Phase IV of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In announcing his decision, President Obama said: “Ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.”
In the wake of President Obama’s decision, there has been a flood of articles focusing on the key reason behind that decision: human-caused climate change.
Here are short summaries and links to five recent articles:
Climate activist Bill McKibben puts into perspective President Obama’s evolution from a fossil fuel advocate to potentially become a leader of climate action. McKibben offers a fair analysis of the politics that delay responsible climate action. He then expresses his hope that we may be accelerating toward real climate action: “Four years ago neither Obama nor Romney even mentioned climate change during their presidential battle. This year Bernie Sanders has made it one of the two centerpieces of his campaign (alongside inequality), and he’s skillfully pulled Hillary Clinton along with him.”
When we are not being bullied by climate-deniers, it becomes clear that climate change is widely accepted in the science community. Among the earliest impact manifestations of anthropogenic climate change, we are now recording rising temperatures in both the atmosphere and the oceans. In just the past few decades, scientists have come to understand the El Niño / La Niña cycles that would cause fluctuating weather patterns even without our off-the-charts atmospheric CO2. In a World Meteorological Organization press release, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud stated: “Our scientific understanding of El Niño has increased greatly in recent years. However, this event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change—the general trend towards a warmer global ocean, the loss of Arctic sea ice and of over a million square kilometers of summer snow cover in the northern hemisphere.”
Just hours after the second televised Democratic Party debate, Senator Bernie Sanders was interviewed on ‘Face the Nation’. The interviewer asked him to further clarify the connection between climate change and the social instability and forced migration that can increase terrorism. “When people migrate into cities and they don’t have jobs, there’s going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment, and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al Qaeda and ISIS are using right now.” It is important to note that this is not just a Presidential candidate and Progressive leader speaking; this belief has also been expressed by both the CIA and the U.S. Defense Department.
On November 4th, Senator Jeff Merkley (Oregon) introduced S.2238, the ‘Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground Act of 2015’. Cosponsors included Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Patrick Leahy (Vermont), Ben Cardin (Maryland), Barbara Boxer (California), Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). The legislation aims to stop endless government giveaways of oil, coal, and other resources, both offshore and under government lands, so as “… to prevent the release of 90 percent of the potential emissions from Federal fossil fuels.”
In a 44-minute video posted online by the National Geographic Channel, Bill Nye pretends to be a typical person worried about climate change, visiting with his shrink, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The therapy session is both amusing and informative. ‘Dr. Schwarzenegger’ suggests that his troubled patient is suffering from ‘Climate Change Grief’, and needs to progress through the five classic stages of grief:
Unfortunately, late on the morning of November 17th, during this writer’s review of the video, National Geographic decided to block free online access (hmmm, feels like Stage 4?). Maybe Bill Nye has put together an outstanding presentation, which could help more people begin to fully understand the gravity of our changing climate situation. We may never know. But, if the whole video is as good as the first ten minutes, let’s hope National Geographic will do a good deed for the Earth, and remove the paywall, restoring free online access that can encourage more people to learn and take action. In the meantime, this link does offer a brief slideshow.
The media tends to stay away from the details that confirm changes in climate, intensification of weather patterns, and other ‘inconvenient problems’ related to our excessive consumption of fossil fuels. One blog which has been compiling and sharing lots of fascinating information lately is RobertScribbler.com. He has some fairly technical content but does a good job dumbing it down, and he offers lots of leads back to sources, that will empower those of us who love to do research. Check it out…
(click on image to view original post at the blog website)
Thus far in 2015, we have set new records for low Arctic sea-ice extent, during three timeframes:
March 4 through March 22,
April 6 through April 10, and
May 18 through June 9.
For the past two weeks, melt rate has accelerated and we may be setting up for another record to begin in the next month. The chart below shows sea-ice extent for each of the years 2011 through 2015. The all-time record year was 2012, marked with a black-dashed line. The gray shaded area shows +/- two standard deviations from the 1981-2010 average (black line). The gold line (1980) has been added for reference, showing when we were well above the average, and also showing the ongoing downward trend in Arctic sea ice.
(click on image to view current arctic ice data at NSIDC.org)
While it can not be predicted how low this year’s sea-ice extent will fall, we do know that melt will continue for nearly two more months. The melt-season reliably ends in mid-September, when new seasonal ice begins to form.