Thursday, September 20, 2012

What a miserable summer

Everyone here in Minnesota talks about the weather—it is a very important topic.  But you are not allowed to complain about it—after all, you can plan for bad weather but you can't change it.  But since we humans have changed the climate, I guess it's OK to complain about this bizarre summer and wonder, Is this the new normal?

And it's not over.  Take the Russian wildfires.  After 2010, the idea that such a disaster could be topped was unthinkable.  Now it looks like that was nothing.  Of course, we knew more about the fires back then because the smoke was blowing into Moscow and the wheat crop was burning.  This time, the fires are in Siberia and we know about them mostly from satellite photographs.

Most severe wildfire season in Russia in a decade

Deborah Byrd SEP 17, 2012

Unlike 2010, when intense wildfires burned in western Russia, most of the 2012 fires have burned in remote parts of eastern and central Siberia.

According to NASA, summer of 2012 has been “the most severe wildfire season Russia has faced in a decade.” By July 2012, more land in Russia had already burned than in the whole summer of 2010, when intense wildfires affected western Russia. Unlike 2010, most of the 2012 fires have burned in remote parts of eastern and central Siberia. NASA said:

More than 17,000 wildfires had burned more than 30 million hectares (74 million acres) through August 2012, according to researchers at the Sukachev Institute of Forest in the Russian Academy of Sciences. In comparison, 20 million hectares burned last year, which was roughly the average between 2000 and 2008, according to an analysis of … data published in 2010.

Image of wildfires on September 11, 2012, burning in south central Siberia, where severe wildfires have occurred throughout this summer. Red outlines indicate hot spots where instruments on NASA’s Aqua satellite detected the unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fires. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center.
The image above is from NASA Aqua satellite on September 11, 2012. These fires are burning in Tomsk, a region of south central Siberia. NASA said:

Thick smoke billowed from numerous wildfires near the Ob River and mixed with haze and clouds that arrived from the southwest. more

The news from the Arctic icecap just gets cheerier by the day—huh?  The Brits are especially worried because without the Gulfstream / Jetstream, UK is Iceland or worse and as we just found out, they are still trying to figure out energy-efficient housing.  This from the Guardian.

Arctic ice shrinks 18% in a year, sounding climate change alarm bells

Scientists and environment groups say the fall is unprecedented and the clearest signal yet of global warming
John Vidal in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 19 September 2012

Sea ice in the Arctic shrunk a dramatic 18% this year to a record low of 3.41m sq km, according to the official US monitoring organisation the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado.

Scientists and environment groups last night said the fall was unprecedented and the clearest signal yet of climate change.

The data released showed the arctic sea beginning to refreeze again in the last few days after the most dramatic melt observed since satellite observations started in 1979.

This year's sea ice extent was 700,000 sq km below the previous minimum of 4.17m sq km set in 2007

"We are now in uncharted territory," said Nsidc director Mark Serreze.

"While we've long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur."

Julienne Stroece, an Nsidc ice research scientist who has been monitoring ice conditions aboard the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, said the data suggested the Arctic sea ice cover was fundamentally changing and predicted more extreme weather.

"We can expect more summers like 2012 as the ice cover continues to thin. The loss of summer sea ice has led to unusual warming of the Arctic atmosphere, that in turn impacts weather patterns in the northern hemisphere, that can result in persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heatwaves and flooding," she said.Arctic sea ice extent for September 16, 2012 was 3.41m sq km.

Other leading ice scientists this week predicted the complete collapse of sea ice in the Arctic within four years. "The final collapse ... is now happening and will probably be complete by 2015/16," said Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University.

Sea ice in the Arctic is seen as a key indicator of global climate change because of its sensitivity to warming and its role in amplifying climate change. According to Nsidc, the warming of Arctic areas is now increasing at around 10% a decade.

Along with the extent of the sea ice, its thickness, or volume, has also significantly decreased in the last two decades. While this is harder to measure accurately, it is believed to have decreased around 40% since 1979.

The collapse of the ice cap was last night interpreted by environment groups as a signal of long-term climate warming caused by man.

"I hope that future generations will mark this day as a turning point, when a new spirit of global cooperation emerged to tackle the huge challenges we face. We must work together to protect the Arctic from the effects of climate change and unchecked corporate greed. This is now the defining environmental battle of our era," said Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace International.

Other groups called on the UK government, and industries across the world to heed the warning signs from the Arctic and act "with urgency and ambition" to tackle climate change.

Rod Downie, polar expert at WWF-UK said: "With the speed of change we are now witnessing in the Arctic, the UK government must show national and global leadership in the urgent transition away from fossil fuels to a low carbon economy.

"This is further evidence that Shell's pursuit of hydrocarbons in the Arctic is reckless. It is completely irresponsible to drill for oil in such a fragile environment; there are simply too many unmanageable risks."

Author and environmental campaigner Bill McKibben said: "Our response [so far] has not been alarm, or panic, or a sense of emergency. It has been: 'Let's go up there and drill for oil'. There is no more perfect indictment of our failure to get to grips with the greatest problem we've ever faced." more

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