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This essay brings attention to recent projections and self-reinforcing feedback loops (i.e., positive feedbacks). I presented much of this information at the Bluegrass Bioneers conference (Alex Smith at Radio Ecoshock evaluates my presentation here). More recently, I presented an updated version in a studio in Bolingbrook, Illinois. All information and sources are readily confirmed with an online search, and links to information about feedbacks can be found here.

Click here to enlarge top photo.


Large-scale Assessments

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (late 2007): >1.8 C by 2100 (up to 4.5 C, depending upon emissions scenarios)


 Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (late 2008): ~2 C by 2100

If you missed PART III of this article click here:  http://ufodigest.com/article/extinction-1020

Later in 2008, Hadley Center’s head of climate change predictions Dr. Vicky Pope calls for a worst-case outcome of more than 5 C by 2100. Joe Romm, writing for Grist, claims, “right now even Hadley [Centre] understands it [> 5 C] is better described as the ‘business-as-usual’ case.”

 United Nations Environment Programme (mid 2009): 3.5 C by 2100

Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (October 2009): 4 C by 2060

Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (November 2009): 6 C, 7 C by 2100

United Nations Environment Programme (December 2010): up to 5 C by 2050

 These assessments fail to account for significant self-reinforcing feedback loops (i.e., positive feedbacks, the term that implies the opposite of its meaning). The IPCC’s vaunted Fifth Assessment continues the trend as it, too, ignores important feedbacks (also listen here). As with prior reports, the Fifth Assessment “has been altered after the expert review stage, with changes added that downplay the economic impacts of a warming planet.” Consider, for example, the failure to mention Arctic ice in the Working Group Summary released 31 March 2014 (additional links here). By 3 September 2014, even Business Insider was announcing via headline: “The Arctic Sea Ice Problem Is Actually Worse — Not Better — Than We Thought.” The importance of Arctic ice in delaying catastrophic warming is enormous, as explained quite simply in 2007:

Anyone who does not know what Latent Heat is will have a false sense of security. It is not hard to understand if I do not use physics jargon. Place on a hot stove a pot of cold water containing 1 kg of ice cubes. Stir the ice water with a long thermometer and take temperature readings. My question is: When will the thermometer begin to show a rise in temperature? Answer: After all the ice has melted. In other words, all the heat from the stove would first all go into melting the ice, without raising the water temperature. The amount of heat entering a system without raising the temperature of the system is called Latent Heat. It takes 80 calories of heat to melt one gram of ice. So in this case, the first 80,000 calories of heat from the stove went into melting the 1 kg of ice first. Only when the ice is all gone will the water temperature rise, and it will do so until it reaches 100C, when the water will begin to boil. Once again, Latent Heat comes into play, and the water temperature will stabilize at the boiling point – until all the water have changed from liquid to vapour, at which point the temperature of the dry pot will rise to the temperature of the flame itself. So how does this apply to Earth’s climate? Consider the Arctic Ocean to be a gigantic pot of ice water, and the sun as the stove. For as long as there is still sea ice to melt, the Arctic Ocean will remain relatively cool, in spite of the ever increasing solar heat entering the Arctic ocean due to ever decreasing ice cover. When the sea ice is gone in the summer, as early as the latter part of this decade, the Arctic Ocean’s temperature will steeply rise, and when it does, so will the global mean temperature, and all hell will break lose.

On a positive note, major assessments fail to account for economic collapse. However, due to the four-decade lag between emissions and temperature rise, the inconvenient fact that the world has emitted more than twice the industrial carbon dioxide emissions since 1970 as we did from the start of the Industrial Revolution through 1970, and also due to the feedback loops described below, I strongly suspect it’s too late for economic collapse to extend the run of our species. Indeed, as pointed out by Bruce Melton at Truth-out in a 26 December 2013 piece featuring climate scientist Wallace Broeker: “today we are operating on atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from the 1970s. In the last 29 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gases as we emitted in the previous 236 years. Because of the great cooling effect of the oceans, we have not yet begun to see the warming that this recent doubling of greenhouse gases will bring.” Greenhouse gas emissions continue to accelerate even as the world’s industrial economy slows to a halt: Emissions grew nearly twice as fast during the first decade of the new millennium as in the previous 30 years, as reported in the 11 April 2014 issue ofThe Guardian.

The 40-year has been evident since at least 1938, when Guy Callendar pointed out influence of rising carbon dioxide on temperature in a paper in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. The hand-drawn figure from the paper shown below clearly illustrates a rise in global-average temperature beginning about 1915, roughly 40 years after the consumption of fossil fuels increased substantially. Callendar’s work was used by J.S. Sawyer in a 1972 paper published in Nature to predict an “increase of 25% CO2 expected by the end of the century … [and] … an increase of 0.6°C in the world temperature” with stunning accuracy.

 Broadening the Perspective

Astrophysicists have long believed Earth was near the center of the habitable zone for humans. Recent research published in the 10 March 2013 issue of Astrophysical Journalindicates Earth is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and lies within 1% of inhabitability (1.5 million km, or 5 times the distance from Earth to Earth’s moon). A minor change in Earth’s atmosphere removes human habitat. Unfortunately, we’ve invoked major changes.

The northern hemisphere is particularly susceptible to accelerated warming, as explained in the 8 April 2013 issue of Journal of Climate. Two days later, a paper in Natureconfirmed that summers in the northern hemisphere are hotter than they’ve been for 600 years. As pointed out by Sherwood and Huber in the 25 May 2012 issue of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and then by James Hansen in his 15 April 2013 paper, humans cannot survive a wet-bulb temperature of 35 C (95 F).

As described by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990, “Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage” (link mirrored here). James Hansen and crew finally caught up to the dire nature of 1 C warming 23 years after the U.N. warning, 28 self-reinforcing feedback loops too late.

We’ve clearly triggered the types of positive feedbacks the United Nations warned about in 1990. Yet my colleagues and acquaintances think we can and will work our way out of this horrific mess with the tools of industrial civilization (which, got us into this mess, as pointed out by Tim Garrett) or permaculture (which is not to denigrate permaculture, the principles of which are implemented at the mud hut). Reforestation doesn’t come close to overcoming combustion of fossil fuels,str as pointed out in the 30 May 2013 issue of Nature Climate Change. Furthermore, forested ecosystems do not sequester additional carbon dioxide as it increases in the atmosphere, as disappointingly explained in the 6 August 2013 issue of New Phytologist. Adding egregious insult to spurting wound, the latest public-education initiative in the United States — the Next Generation Science Standards — buries the relationship between combustion of fossil fuels and planetary warming. The misadventures of the corporate government continue, even as collapse of ecosystems is fully under way. As pointed out in the April 2013 issue of PLoS ONE — too little, too late for many ecosystems — “catastrophic collapses can occur without prior warning.”

Some green-washing solutionistas take refuge in the nuclear solution. It’s astonishing what one can conclude when grid-tied electricity is a viewed as a natural right. James Hansen’s endorsement notwithstanding, nuclear power plants cause, rather than prevent, additional warming of Earth.

Let’s ignore the models for a moment and consider only the results of a single briefing to the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15). Regulars in this space will recall COP15 as the climate-change meetings thrown under the bus by the Obama administration. The summary for that long-forgotten briefing contains this statement: “THE LONG-TERM SEA LEVEL THAT CORRESPONDS TO CURRENT CO2 CONCENTRATION IS ABOUT 23 METERS ABOVE TODAY’S LEVELS, AND THE TEMPERATURES WILL BE 6 DEGREES C OR MORE HIGHER. THESE ESTIMATES ARE BASED ON REAL LONG TERM CLIMATE RECORDS, NOT ON MODELS.”

In other words, near-term extinction of humans was already guaranteed, to the knowledge of Obama and his administration (i.e., the Central Intelligence Agency, which runs the United States and controls presidential power). Even before the dire feedbacks were reported by the scientific community, the administration abandoned climate change as a significant issue because it knew we were done as early as 2009. Rather than shoulder the unenviable task of truth-teller, Obama did as his imperial higher-ups demanded: He lied about collapse, and he lied about climate change. And he still does.

Ah, those were the good ol’ days, back when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were well below 400 parts per million (ppm). We’ll blow through the 400 ppm mark soon, probably for the first time in 3.2 to 5 million years. And, as reported in the journal Global and Planetary Change in April 2013, every molecule of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1980 comes from human emissions. Not to be outdone, methane levels reached an average mean of 1800 parts per billion (ppb) on the morning of 16 June 2013. Tacking on a few of the additional greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and taking a conservative approach jacks up the carbon dioxide equivalent to 480 ppm(and see here, from NOAA). Seeps are appearing in numerous locations off the eastern coast of the United States, leading to rapid destabilization of methane hydrates(according to the 25 October 2013 issue of Nature).

On land, anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States have been severely underestimated by the Environmental Protection (sic) Agency, according to a paper in the 25 November 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This figure is 1100 ppb higher than pre-industrial peak levels. Methane release tracks closely with temperature rise throughout Earth history — specifically, Arctic methane release and rapid global temperature rise are interlinked — including a temperature rise up to about 1 C per year over a decade, according to data from ice cores. The tight linkage between Arctic warming and planetary warming was verified in an article in the 2 February 2014 issue Nature Geoscience, which found that the Arctic’s cap of cold, layered air plays a more important role in boosting polar warming than does its shrinking ice and snow cover. A layer of shallow, stagnant air acts like a lid, concentrating heat near the surface. Finally, adding fuel to the growing fire, a paper in the 27 March 2014 issue of Nature articulates the strong interconnection between methane release and temperature rise: “For each degree that Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere … will increase several times. As temperatures rise, the relative increase of methane emissions will outpace that of carbon dioxide.”

How long will the hangover persist, after we’re done with the fossil-fuel party? According to University of Chicago oceanographer David Archer: “The climatic impacts of releasing fossil fuel CO2 to the atmosphere will last longer than Stonehenge,” Archer writes in his January 2008 book The Long Thaw. “Longer than time capsules, longer than nuclear waste, far longer than the age of human civilization so far.”

"Methane bubbles observed by sonar, escape from sea-bed as temperatures rise"

BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8205864.stm

Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loops 

1. This description combines subsea permafrost and methane hydrates in the Arctic. The two sources of methane are sufficiently similar to warrant considering them in combination.

About 250 plumes of methane hydrates are escaping from the shallow Arctic seabed, likely as a result of a regional 1 C rise in temperature, as reported in the 6 August 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Methane bubbling out the Arctic Ocean is further elucidated in Science in March 2010. As described in a subsequent paper in the June 2010 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a minor increase in temperature would cause the release of upwards of 16,000 metric tons of methane each year. Storms accelerate the release, according to research published in the 24 November 2013 issue of Nature Geoscience The latter paper also concludes the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is venting at least 17 teragrams of the methane into the atmosphere each year, up from 0.5 teragrams just 7 years earlier (a teragram is equal to 1 million tons). According toNASA’s CARVE project, these plumes were up to 150 kilometers across as of mid-July 2013. Global-average temperature is expected to rise by more than 4 C by 2030 and 10 C by 2040 based solely on methane release from the Arctic Ocean, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24).

Whereas Malcolm Light’s 9 February 2012 forecast of extinction of all life on Earth by the middle of this century appeared premature because his conclusion of exponential methane release during summer 2011 was based on data subsequently revised and smoothed by U.S. government agencies, subsequent information — most notably from NASA’s CARVE project — indicates the grave potential for catastrophic release of methane. (I doubt industrial civilization manages to kill all life on Earth, although that clearly is the goal.) Catastrophically rapid release of methane in the Arctic is further supported by Nafeez Ahmed’s thorough analysis in the 5 August 2013 issue of the Guardian as well as Natalia Shakhova’s 29 July 2013 interview with Nick Breeze (note the look of abject despair at the eight-minute mark). In early November 2013, methane levels well in excess of 2,600 ppb were recorded at multiple altitudes in the Arctic. Later that same month, Shakhova and colleagues published a paper in Nature Geoscience suggesting “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf” and indicating that a 50-billion-tonne “burst” of methane could warm Earth by 1.3 C. Such a burst of methane is “highly possible at any time.”

By 15 December 2013, methane bubbling up from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean had sufficient force to prevent sea ice from forming in the area. Nearly two years after his initial, oft-disparaged analysis, Malcolm Light concluded on 22 December 2013, “we have passed the methane hydrate tipping point and are now accelerating into extinction as the methane hydrate ‘Clathrate Gun’ has begun firing volleys of methane into the Arctic atmosphere.” According to Light’s analysis in late 2013, the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere will resemble that of Venus before 2100.

Two weeks later, in an essay stressing near-term human extinction, Light concluded: “The Gulf Stream transport rate started the methane hydrate (clathrate) gun firing in the Arctic in 2007 when its energy/year exceeded 10 million times the amount of energy/year necessary to dissociate subsea Arctic methane hydrates.” The refereed journal literature, typically playing catch-up with reality, includes an article in the 3 February 2014 issue of Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface claiming, “Sustained submergence into the future should increase gas venting rate roughly exponentially as sediments continue to warm.”

Part V of this article cocntinues tomorrow: Wednesday, October 22, 2014!

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