|"The views expressed by others are not necessarily shared by Colin Andrews personally. All perspectives are respected"
AS GLACIERS MELT, SCIENTISTS SEEK NEW DATA ON RISING SEAS
By Justin Gillis
New York Times
November 14, 2010
TASIILAQ, GREENLAND - With a tense pilot gripping the stick, the helicopter hovered above the water, a red
speck of machinery lost in a wilderness of rock and ice.
To the right, a great fjord stretched toward the sea, choked with icebergs. To the left loomed one of the
immense glaciers that bring ice from the top of the Greenland ice sheet and dump it into the ocean.
Hanging out the sides of the craft, two scientists sent a measuring device plunging into the water, between ice
floes. Near the bottom, it reported a temperature of 40 degrees. It was the latest in a string of troubling
measurements showing that the water was warm enough to melt glaciers rapidly from below.
³That¹s the highest we¹ve seen this far up the fjord,² said one of the scientists, Fiammetta Straneo.
The temperature reading was a new scrap of information in the effort to answer one of the most urgent -- and
most widely debated -- questions facing humanity: How fast is the world¹s ice going to melt?
Scientists long believed that the collapse of the gigantic ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica would take
thousands of years, with sea level possibly rising as little as seven inches in this century, about the same
amount as in the 20th century.
But researchers have recently been startled to see big changes unfold in both Greenland and Antarctica.
As a result of recent calculations that take the changes into account, many scientists now say that sea level is
likely to rise perhaps three feet by 2100 -- an increase that, should it come to pass, would pose a threat to
coastal regions the world over.
And the calculations suggest that the rise could conceivably exceed six feet, which would put thousands of
square miles of the American coastline under water and would probably displace tens of millions of people in
The scientists say that a rise of even three feet would inundate low-lying lands in many countries, rendering
some areas uninhabitable. It would cause coastal flooding of the sort that now happens once or twice a century
to occur every few years. It would cause much faster erosion of beaches, barrier islands and marshes. It
would contaminate fresh water supplies with salt.
In the United States, parts of the East Coast and Gulf Coast would be hit hard. In New York, coastal flooding
could become routine, with large parts of Queens and Brooklyn especially vulnerable. About 15 percent of the
urbanized land in the Miami region could be inundated. The ocean could encroach more than a mile inland in
parts of North Carolina.
Abroad, some of the world¹s great cities -- London, Cairo, Bangkok, Venice and Shanghai among them --
would be critically endangered by a three-foot rise in the sea.
Climate scientists readily admit that the three-foot estimate could be wrong. Their understanding of the changes
going on in the world¹s land ice is still primitive. But, they say, it could just as easily be an underestimate as an
overestimate. One of the deans of American coastal studies, Orrin H. Pilkey of Duke University, is advising
coastal communities to plan for a rise of at least five feet by 2100.
³I think we need immediately to begin thinking about our coastal cities -- how are we going to protect them?²
said John A. Church, an Australian scientist who is a leading expert on sea level. ³We can¹t afford to protect
everything. We will have to abandon some areas.²
Sea-level rise has been a particularly contentious element in the debate over global warming. One published
estimate suggested the threat was so dire that sea level could rise as much as 15 feet in this century. Some of
the recent work that produced the three-foot projection was carried out specifically to counter more extreme
Global warming skeptics, on the other hand, contend that any changes occurring in the ice sheets are probably
due to natural climate variability, not to greenhouse gases released by humans.
Such doubts have been a major factor in the American political debate over global warming, stalling efforts by
Democrats and the Obama administration to pass legislation that would curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Similar legislative efforts are likely to receive even less support in the new Congress, with many newly elected
legislators openly skeptical about climate change.
A large majority of climate scientists argue that heat-trapping gases are almost certainly playing a role in what is
happening to the world¹s land ice. They add that the lack of policies to limit emissions is raising the risk that the
ice will go into an irreversible decline before this century is out, a development that would eventually make a
three-foot rise in the sea look trivial.
Melting ice is by no means the only sign that the earth is warming. Thermometers on land, in the sea and
aboard satellites show warming. Heat waves, flash floods and other extreme weather events are increasing.
Plants are blooming earlier, coral reefs are dying and many other changes are afoot that most climate scientists
attribute to global warming.
Yet the rise of the sea could turn out to be the single most serious effect. While the United States is among the
countries at greatest risk, neither it nor any other wealthy country has made tracking and understanding the
changes in the ice a strategic national priority.
The consequence is that researchers lack elementary information. They have been unable even to measure the
water temperature near some of the most important ice on the planet, much less to figure out if that water is
warming over time. Vital satellites have not been replaced in a timely way, so that American scientists are losing
some of their capability to watch the ice from space.
The missing information makes it impossible for scientists to be sure how serious the situation is.
³As a scientist, you have to stick to what you know and what the evidence suggests,² said Gordon Hamilton,
one of the researchers in the helicopter.
³But the things I¹ve seen in Greenland in the last five years are alarming. We see these ice sheets changing
In the brilliant sunshine of a late summer day in southeastern Greenland, the pilot at the controls of the red
helicopter, Morgan Goransson, dropped low toward the water. He used the downdraft from his rotor to clear
ice from the surface of Sermilik Fjord.
The frigid waters were only 30 feet below, so any mechanical problem would have sent the chopper plunging
into the sea. ³It is so dangerous,² Mr.Goransson said later that night, over a fish dinner.
Taking the temperature of waters near the ice sheet is essential if scientists are to make sense of what is
happening in Greenland. But it is a complex and risky business.
The two scientists -- Dr. Straneo, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and Dr.
Hamilton, of the University of Maine -- are part of a larger team that has been traveling here every summer with
financing from the National Science Foundation, the federal agency that sponsors much of the nation¹s most
important research. Not only do they remove the doors of helicopters and lean over icy fjords to get their
readings, but they dodge huge icebergs in tiny boats and traipse over glaciers scarred by crevasses that could
swallow large buildings.
The reading that the scientists obtained a few weeks ago, of 40 degrees near the bottom of the fjord, fit a
broader pattern that researchers have been detecting in the past few years.
Water that originated far to the south, in warmer parts of the Atlantic Ocean, is flushing into Greenland¹s fjords
at a brisk pace. Scientists suspect that as it melts the ice from beneath, the warm water is loosening the
connection of the glaciers to the ground and to nearby rock.
The effect has been something like popping a Champagne cork, allowing the glaciers to move faster and dump
more ice into the ocean. Within the past decade, the flow rate of many of Greenland¹s biggest glaciers has
doubled or tripled. Some of them have eventually slowed back down, but rarely have they returned to their
speed of the 1990s.
Two seismologists, Meredith Nettles and Göran Ekström of Columbia University, discovered a few years ago
that unusual earthquakes were emanating from the Greenland glaciers as they dumped the extra ice into the
sea. ³It¹s remarkable that an iceberg can do this, but when that loss of ice occurs, it does generate a signal that
sets up a vibration that you can record all across the globe,² Dr. Nettles said in an interview in Greenland.
Analyzing past records, they discovered that these quakes had increased severalfold from the level of the early
1990s, a sign of how fast the ice is changing.
Satellite and other measurements suggest that through the 1990s, Greenland was gaining about as much ice
through snowfall as it lost to the sea every year. But since then, the warmer water has invaded the fjords, and
air temperatures in Greenland have increased markedly. The overall loss of ice seems to be accelerating, an
ominous sign given that the island contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than 20 feet.
Strictly speaking, scientists have not proved that human-induced global warming is the cause of the changes.
They are mindful that the climate in the Arctic undergoes big natural variations. In the 1920s and ¹30s, for
instance, a warm spell caused many glaciers to retreat.
John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who is often critical of mainstream
climate science, said he suspected that the changes in Greenland were linked to this natural variability, and added
that he doubted that the pace would accelerate as much as his colleagues feared.
For high predictions of sea-level rise to be correct, ³some big chunks of the Greenland ice sheet are going to
have to melt, and they¹re just not melting that way right now,² Dr. Christy said.
Yet other scientists say that the recent changes in Greenland appear more pervasive than those of the early 20th
century, and that they are occurring at the same time that air and ocean temperatures are warming, and ice melt
is accelerating, throughout much of the world.
Helheim Glacier, which terminates in Sermilik Fjord, is one of a group of glaciers in southeastern Greenland that
have shown especially big changes.
On a recent day, the red helicopter landed on a rocky outcrop above the glacier, a flowing river of ice about 25
miles long and nearly four miles wide. On the side of the canyon, Dr. Hamilton pointed toward a band of
It was, in essence, a bathtub ring.
Something caused the glacier, one of Greenland¹s largest, to speed up sharply in the middle of the last decade,
and it spit so much ice into the ocean that it thinned by some 300 feet in a few years. A part of the canyon
that was once shielded from the sun by ice was thus left exposed.
The glacier has behaved erratically ever since, and with variations, that pattern is being repeated all over
Greenland. ³All these changes are happening at a far faster pace than we would have ever predicted from our
conventional theories,² Dr. Hamilton said.
A few days after the helicopter trip, an old Greenlandic freighter nudged its way gingerly up Sermilik Fjord,
which was so choked with ice that the boat had to stop well short of its goal. ³You have to be flexible to work
out here,² said the leader of the team that day, Dr. Straneo of Woods Hole.
Soon she was barking orders, and her team swung into motion. A cold, Arctic drizzle fell on the boat and the
people. Off the port side in a rickety skiff, David Sutherland, a young scientist at the University of Washington,
tossed a floating buoy, carrying a string of instruments, into the water, and an anchor snatched it below the
surface. Over the next year, it will measure temperature, currents and other factors in the fjord.
Dr. Sutherland climbed back aboard the freighter with cold, wet feet. As the boat headed back to port, it passed
icebergs the size of city blocks, chunks of the Greenland ice sheet bound for the open sea.
An Ocean in Flux
The strongest reason to think that the level of the sea could undergo big changes in the future is that it has done
so in the past.
With the waxing and waning of ice ages, driven by wobbles in the earth¹s orbit, sea level has varied by
hundreds of feet, with shorelines moving many miles in either direction. ³We¹re used to the shoreline being
fixed, and it¹s not,² said Robin E. Bell, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia
But at all times in the past, when the shoreline migrated, humans either had not evolved yet or consisted of
primitive bands of hunter-gatherers who could readily move. By the middle of this century, a projected nine
billion people will inhabit the planet, with many millions of them living within a few feet of sea level.
To a majority of climate scientists, the question is not whether the earth¹s land ice will melt in response to the
greenhouse gases those people are generating, but whether it will happen too fast for society to adjust.
Recent research suggests that the volume of the ocean may have been stable for thousands of years as human
civilization has developed. But it began to rise in the 19th century, around the same time that advanced countries
began to burn large amounts of coal and oil.
The sea has risen about eight inches since then, on average. That sounds small, but on a gently sloping
shoreline, such an increase is enough to cause substantial erosion unless people intervene. Governments have
spent billions in recent decades pumping sand onto disappearing beaches and trying to stave off the loss of
Scientists have been struggling for years to figure out if a similar pace of sea-level rise is likely to continue in
this century -- or whether it will accelerate. In its last big report, in 2007, the United Nations group that
assesses climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that sea level would rise at least
seven more inches, and might rise as much as two feet, in the 21st century.
But the group warned that these estimates did not fully incorporate ³ice dynamics,² the possibility that the
world¹s big ice sheets, as well as its thousands of smaller glaciers and ice caps, would start spitting ice into
the ocean at a much faster rate than it could melt on land. Scientific understanding of this prospect was so
poor, the climate panel said, that no meaningful upper limit could be put on the potential rise of sea level.
That report prompted fresh attempts by scientists to calculate the effect of ice dynamics, leading to the recent,
revised projections of sea-level rise.
Satellite evidence suggests that the rise of the sea accelerated late in the 20th century, so that the level is now
increasing a little over an inch per decade, on average -- about a foot per century. Increased melting of land
ice appears to be a major factor. Another is that most of the extra heat being trapped by human greenhouse
emissions is going not to warm the atmosphere but to warm the ocean, and as it warms, the water expands.
With the study of the world¹s land ice still in its early stages, scientists have lately been trying crude methods to
figure out how much the pace might accelerate in coming decades.
One approach, pioneered by a German climate researcher named Stefan Rahmstorf, entails looking at the past
relationship between the temperature of the earth and sea level, then making projections. Another, developed by
a University of Colorado glaciologist named Tad Pfeffer, involves calculations about how fast the glaciers, if
they keep speeding up, might be able to dump ice into the sea.
Those two methods yield approximately the same answer: that sea level could rise by 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 feet
between now and 2100. A developing consensus among climate scientists holds that the best estimate is a little
over three feet.
Calculations about the effect of a three-foot increase suggest that it would cause shoreline erosion to accelerate
markedly. In places that once flooded only in a large hurricane, the higher sea would mean that a routine storm
could do the trick. In the United States, an estimated 5,000 square miles of dry land and 15,000 square miles of
wetlands would be at risk of permanent inundation, though the actual effect would depend on how much
money was spent protecting the shoreline.
The worst effects, however, would probably occur in areas where land is sinking even as the sea rises. Some
of the world¹s major cities, especially those built on soft sediments at the mouths of great rivers, are in that
situation. In North America, New Orleans is the premier example, with large parts of the city already sitting
several feet below sea level.
Defenses can be built to keep out the sea, of course, like the levees of the New Orleans region and the famed
dikes of the Netherlands. But the expense is likely to soar as the ocean rises, and such defenses are not
foolproof, as Hurricane Katrina proved.
Storm surges battering the world¹s coastlines every few years would almost certainly force people to flee
inland. But it is hard to see where the displaced would go, especially in Asia, where huge cities -- and even entire
countries, notably Bangladesh -- are at risk.
Moreover, scientists point out that if their projections prove accurate, the sea will not stop rising in 2100. By
that point, the ice sheets could be undergoing extensive melting.
³Beyond a hundred years out, it starts to look really challenging,² said Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at
Pennsylvania State University. ³You start thinking about every coastal city on the planet hiding behind a wall,
with storms coming.²
A Shortage of Satellites
One Saturday morning a few months back, a University of Colorado student named Scott Potter, sitting in a
control room on the Boulder campus, typed a word into a computer.
Over the next 40 seconds, indicators in the control room turned red. Alarms rang. Pagers buzzed. High above
the earth, a satellite called ICESat, reacting to Mr. Potter¹s order, prepared itself to die.
The commotion was expected. Mr. Potter, one of several Colorado students who hold part-time jobs as satellite
controllers under professional supervision, was doing the bidding of NASA. His command that day formally
ended the ICESat mission, which had produced crucial information about the world¹s ice sheets for seven years.
At the end of August, two weeks after Mr. Potter sent his order, the remains of ICESat plunged into the
Barents Sea, off the Russian coast. Its demise was seen by many climate researchers as a depressing symbol.
After a decade of budget cuts and shifting space priorities in Washington, several satellites vital to monitoring
the ice sheets and other aspects of the environment are on their last legs, with no replacements at hand. A
replacement for ICESat will not be launched until 2015 at the earliest.
³We are slowly going blind in space,² said Robert Bindschadler, a polar researcher at the University of
Maryland, Baltimore County, who spent 30 years with NASA studying ice.
Several federal agencies and two presidential administrations, Democratic and Republican, have made decisions
that contributed to the problems.
For instance, an attempt by the Clinton and Bush administrations to combine certain military and civilian
satellites ate up $5 billion before it was labeled a ³horrendous and costly failure² by a Congressional committee.
A plan by President George W. Bush to return to the moon without allocating substantial new money squeezed
budgets at NASA.
Now, the Obama administration is seeking to chart a new course, abandoning the goal of returning to the moon
and seeking a substantial increase in financing for earth sciences. It is also promising an overall strategy for
improving the country¹s environmental observations.
Major elements of the administration¹s program won support from both parties on Capitol Hill and were signed
into law recently, but amid a larger budget impasse, Congress has not allocated the money President Obama
In the meantime, NASA is spending about $15 million a year to fly airplanes over ice sheets and glaciers to
gather some information it can no longer get by satellite, and projects are under way in various agencies to plug
some of the other information gaps. NASA has begun planning new satellites to replace the ones that are aging.
³The missions that are being designed right now are fantastic,² said Tom Wagner, who runs NASA¹s ice
The satellite difficulties are one symptom of a broader problem: because no scientifically advanced country has
made a strategic priority of studying land ice, scientists lack elementary information that they need to make
sense of what is happening.
They do not know the lay of the land beneath most of the world¹s glaciers, including many in Greenland, in
sufficient detail to calculate how fast the ice might retreat. They have only haphazard readings of the depth and
temperature of the ocean near Greenland, needed to figure out why so much warm water seems to be attacking
the ice sheet.
The information problems are even more severe in Antarctica. Much of that continent is colder than Greenland,
and its ice sheet is believed to be more stable, over all. But in recent years, parts of the ice sheet have started
to flow rapidly, raising the possibility that it will destabilize in the same way that much of the world¹s other ice
Certain measurements are so spotty for Antarctica that scientists have not been able to figure out whether the
continent is losing or gaining ice.
Scientists do not have good measurements of the water temperature beneath the massive, floating ice shelves
that are helping to buttress certain parts of the ice sheet in West Antarctica. Since the base of the ice sheet sits
below sea level in that region, it has long been thought especially vulnerable to a warming ocean.
But the cavities beneath ice shelves and floating glaciers are difficult to reach, and scientists said that too little
money had been spent to develop technologies that could provide continuing measurements.
Figuring out whether Antarctica is losing ice over all is essential, because that ice sheet contains enough water
to raise global sea level by nearly 200 feet. The parts that appear to be destabilizing contain water sufficient to
raise it perhaps 10 feet.
Daniel Schrag, a Harvard geochemist and head of that university¹s Center for the Environment, praised the
scientists who do difficult work studying ice, but he added, ³The scale of what they can do, given the
resources available, is just completely out of whack with what is required.²
Climate scientists note that while the science of studying ice may be progressing slowly, the world¹s emissions
of heat-trapping gases are not.
They worry that the way things are going, extensive melting of land ice may become inevitable before political
leaders find a way to limit the gases, and before scientists even realize such a point of no return has been
³The past clearly shows that sea-level rise is getting faster and faster the warmer it gets,² Dr. Rahmstorf said.
³Why should that process stop? If it gets warmer, ice will melt faster.²
Leaking Siberian ice raises a tricky climate issue
Posted November 22, 2010
By ARTHUR MAX, Associated Press Arthur Max, Associated Press – Mon Nov 22, 12:00 am ET
CHERSKY, Russia – The Russian scientist shuffles across the frozen lake, scuffing aside ankle-deep snow
until he finds a cluster of bubbles trapped under the ice. With a cigarette lighter in one hand and a knife in the
other, he lances the ice like a blister. Methane whooshes out and bursts into a thin blue flame.
Gas locked inside Siberia's frozen soil and under its lakes has been seeping out since the end of the last ice age
10,000 years ago. But in the past few decades, as the Earth has warmed, the icy ground has begun
thawing more rapidly, accelerating the release of methane — a greenhouse gas 23 times more
powerful than carbon dioxide — at a perilous rate.
Some scientists believe the thawing of permafrost could become the epicenter of climate change.
They say 1.5 trillion tons of carbon, locked inside icebound earth since the age of mammoths, is a
climate time bomb waiting to explode if released into the atmosphere.
"Here, total carbon storage is like all the rain forests of our planet put together," says the scientist, Sergey
Zimov — "here" being the endless sweep of snow and ice stretching toward Siberia's gray horizon, as seen
from Zimov's research facility nearly 350 kilometers (220 miles) above the Arctic Circle.
Climate change moves back to center-stage on Nov. 29 when governments meet in Cancun, Mexico, to try
again to thrash out a course of counteractions. But U.N. officials hold out no hope the two weeks of talks will
lead to a legally binding accord governing carbon emissions, seen is the key to averting what is feared might
be a dramatic change in climate this century.
Most climate scientists, with a few dissenters, say human activities — the stuff of daily life like driving cars,
producing electricity or raising cattle — is overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, methane and other
gases that trap heat, causing a warming effect.
But global warming is amplified in the polar regions. What feels like a modest temperature rise is enough to
induce Greenland glaciers to retreat, Arctic sea ice to thin and contract in summer, and permafrost to thaw
faster, both on land and under the seabed.
Yet awareness of methane leaks from permafrost is so new that it was not even mentioned in the seminal
2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned of rising sea levels inundating
coastal cities, dramatic shifts in rainfall disrupting agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and
the extinction of species.
"In my view, methane is a serious sleeper out there that can pull us over the hump," said Robert Corell, an
eminent U.S. climate change researcher and Arctic specialist. Corell, speaking by telephone from a conference
in Miami, said he and other U.S. scientists are pushing Washington to deploy satellites to gather more
information on methane leaks.
The lack of data over a long period of time casts uncertainty over the extent of the threat. An article last
August in the journal Science quoted several experts as saying it's too early to predict whether Arctic methane
will be the tipping point.
"Arctic Armageddon Needs More Science, Less Hype," was its headline.
Studies indicate that cold-country dynamics on climate change are complex. The Arctic Monitoring and
Assessment Program, a scientific body set up by the eight Arctic rim countries, says overall the Arctic is
absorbing more carbon dioxide than it releases.
"Methane is a different story," said its 2009 report. The Arctic is responsible for up to 9 percent of global
methane emissions. Other methane sources include landfills, livestock and fossil fuel production.
Katey Walter Anthony, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has been measuring methane seeps in Arctic
lakes in Alaska, Canada and Russia, starting here around Chersky 10 years ago.
She was stunned to see how much methane was leaking from holes in the sediment at the bottom of one of
the first lakes she visited. "On some days it looked like the lake was boiling," she said. Returning each year,
she noticed this and other lakes doubling in size as warm water ate into the frozen banks.
"The edges of the lake look like someone eating a cookie. The permafrost gets digested in the guts of the lake
and burps out as methane," she said in an interview in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, en route to a field trip in
Greenland and Scandinavia.
More than 50 billion tons could be unleashed from Siberian lakes alone, more than 10 times the amount now in
the atmosphere, she said.
But the rate of defrosting is hard to assess with the data at hand.
"If permafrost were to thaw suddenly, in a flash, it would put a tremendous amount of carbon in the
atmosphere. We would feel temperatures warming across the globe. And that would be a big deal," she said.
But it may not happen so quickly. "Depending on how slow permafrost thaws, its effect on temperature
across the globe will be different," she said.
[List: America's most polluted cities]
Permafrost is defined as ground that has stayed below freezing for more than two consecutive summers. In
fact, most of Siberia and the rest of the Arctic, covering one-fifth of the Earth's land surface, have been
frozen for millennia.
During the summer, the ground can defrost to a depth of several feet, turning to sludge and sometimes
blossoming into vast fields of grass and wildflowers. Below that thin layer, however, the ground remains
frozen, sometimes encased in ice dozens or even hundreds of meters (yards) thick.
As the Earth warms, the summer thaw bites a bit deeper, awakening ice-age microbes that attack organic
matter — vegetation and animal remains — buried where oxygen cannot reach, producing methane that
gurgles to the surface and into the air.
The newly released methane adds to the greenhouse effect, trapping yet more heat which deepens the next
thaw, in a spiraling cycle of increasing warmth.
Curbing man-made methane emissions could slow this process, said Walter Anthony.
"We have an incentive to reduce our fossil fuel emissions. By doing so, we can reduce the warming that's
occurring in the Arctic and potentially put some brakes on permafrost thaw," she said.
[Rewind: U.S. town’s drilling ban follows flammable water issues]
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in its 2010 Arctic Report Card issued last month,
said the average temperature of the permafrost has been rising for decades, but noted "a significant
acceleration" in the last five years at many spots on the Arctic coast.
One of those spots would be Chersky, an isolated town on the bank of the Kolyma River at the mouth of the
East Siberia Sea.
The ground in this remote corner of the world, 6,600 kilometers (4,000 miles) east of Moscow, has warmed
about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) in the last five years, to about -5 C (23 F?) today, says Zimov,
director of the internationally funded Northeast Science Station, which is about three kilometers (2 miles)
The warming is causing the landscape to buckle under his feet.
"I live here more than 30 years. ... There are many (dirt) roads in our region which I used or built myself, but
now I can't use anymore. Now they look like canyons," he says.
Buildings, too, collapse. The school in Chersky, a Soviet-era structure with a tall bronze statue of Karl Marx
on its doorstep, was abandoned several years ago when the walls began to crack as the foundations gave way.
The northern Siberian soil, called yedoma, covers 1.8 million square kilometers (700,000 sq. miles) and is
particularly unstable. Below the surface are vertical wedges of ice, as if 15-story-high icicles had been
hammered into the soft ground, rich in decaying vegetation, over thousands of years.
As the air warms, the tops of the wedges melt and create depressions in the land. Water either forms a lake or
runs off to lower ground, creating a series of steep hillocks and gullies. During summer, lakeside soil may
erode and tumble into the water, settling on the bottom where bacteria eat it and cough up yet more methane.
The process takes a long time, but Zimov has done a simulation by bulldozing trees and scraping off moss and
surface soil from 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of former larch forest, rendering it as if it had been leveled by fire.
Seven years later the previously flat terrain is carved up with crevices 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) deep,
creating a snowy badlands.
Gazing across a white river to the apartment blocks on a distant hill, Zimov said, "In another 30 years all of
Chersky will look like this."
AP – In this Oct. 23, 2010 photo,
Russian scientist Sergey Zimov walks
on a Siberian lake near the town of …
|Some scientists believe
the thawing of
permafrost could become
the epicenter of climate
change. They say 1.5
trillion tons of carbon,
locked inside icebound
earth since the age of
mammoths, is a climate
time bomb waiting to
explode if released into
|Word Is That The North Atlantic Current Has Cut Off
Posted December 12, 2010
Source of the above figure 1: HERE
This article is reproduced with the permission of New Scientist for exclusive use by Nova users.
Climate change: The great Atlantic shutdown
15 April 2006
From New Scientist Print Edition.
Is Europe's central-heating system about to break down, causing climate chaos around the world? Late last
year, oceanographers reported a sudden and shocking slowdown in the currents of the North Atlantic, a critical
part of the vast system of ocean circulation that influences temperatures and weather around the world. A
shutdown could cause famine in south Asia, kill off the Amazon rainforest and plunge western Europe into a
mini ice age.
However, if you live in Europe, don't order that snowcat just yet. The conclusions reported last year have been
dismissed by many climate scientists, who say their models show the current will keep going for at least
another hundred years or so. So what is really going on? Are changes in ocean circulation about to turn our
lives upside down, or is this something only our grandchildren will have to cope with?
This vital question is in doubt because the behaviour of ocean currents is still remarkably obscure. On a crude
level, the oceans of the world are linked together by a network of currents sometimes called the global
conveyor, with warm surface flows connecting to cold deep currents. The conveyor is driven by winds and
by a more complicated process called thermohaline circulation - and this is the process that has climatologists
As its name implies, thermohaline circulation depends on heat and salt. An offshoot of the Gulf Stream called
the North Atlantic Drift flows all the way to the seas off Greenland and Norway. Evaporation makes the water
saltier, so as it is chilled by Arctic winds it becomes denser than the waters underneath it and sinks. It then
spills back southward over the undersea ledges between Greenland and Scotland to form a slow, cold,
undersea river called the North Atlantic Deep Water. This flows all the way to the Southern Ocean, with some
water going as far the Indian Ocean, where it gradually wells up again, perhaps a millennium after it sank.
The weak link is the sinking process. Climate change is injecting ever more fresh water into the Arctic by
increasing river flows and accelerating the calving of icebergs from Greenland. This fresh water dilutes the
North Atlantic Drift, reducing its density and making it more buoyant. If the fresh water input reaches a critical
rate, around 100,000 tonnes per second, sinking could stop entirely. The northern branch of the conveyor
would stop, and warm tropical waters would no longer flow past the west coast of Europe. ....
Full Article HERE
|In fact, the slowdown seems to have started nearly a decade ago. When the US
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration made a similar survey of the
Atlantic in 1998 it was interested in carbon dioxide levels and did not calculate
the flow rate. When Bryden's team did the sums, they found the flow had been
relatively steady between 1957 and 1992, dropped off by 1998 and remained
Bryden's paper prompted some nervous press coverage. "There were alarming
stories saying that the sky is falling," says Carl Wunsch, a physical
oceanographer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It's a complicated story
reduced to a fairytale". In fact, Bryden's measurements are not proof of imminent
|'Blocked' jetstream to blame for freak weather in
Russia and Pakistan, say scientists
By Niall Firth
Read more HERE:
The sun rises two days early in Greenland, sparking fears that
climate change is accelerating
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 4:29 PM on 14th January 2011
The sun over Greenland has risen two days early, baffling scientists and sparking fears that Arctic icecaps are
melting faster than previously thought.
Experts say the sun should have risen over the Arctic nation's most westerly town, Ilulissat, yesterday, ending a
month-and-a-half of winter darkness.
But for the first time in history light began creeping over the horizon at around 1pm on Tuesday - 48 hours
ahead of the usual date of 13 January.
The mysterious sunrise has confused scientists, although it is believed the most likely explanation is that it is
down to the lower height of melting icecaps allowing the sun's light to penetrate through earlier.
|STORMING TOWARDS 2012:
Super-Storms hit two continents simultaneously.
In Australia the worst cyclone ever to hit the continent, while in
the United States the other side of the planet, the snowiest January
By Colin Andrews - Posted February 3, 2011
Why the UN can never stop climate change.
David G Victor guardian.co.uk,
For any progress to be made, diplomacy should shift to smaller forums, with achievable goals and focus on
On Sunday in Thailand diplomats opened another round of formal United Nations talks on global warming. For
more than 20 years, the UN has been working on this problem, with little progress. Expectations have never
been lower. The December 2009 conference in Copenhagen that was supposed to finalise a new treaty to replace
the expiring Kyoto protocol ended in deadlock. Last year's talks in Cancún ended without agreement on most of
the important new issues.
Some of the troubles with global warming diplomacy are unavoidable. Stopping climate change is one of the
hardest challenges the international community has undertaken. The main cause of climate change, emissions of
carbon dioxide, is intrinsic to the burning of fossil fuels that power the world economy. Even in the best of
circumstances, getting off carbon will take decades and trillions of dollars. The world economic crisis makes
that even harder as few societies choose to spend money on distant problems when they face more immediate
challenges such as unemployment and poverty.
The failure to make progress, though, is mainly due to bad strategy. The United Nations forum is the wrong
place for serious diplomacy. One of the chief strengths of the UN system – that it involves every nation on the
planet – is a huge liability for global warming. By working in large groups, UN talks are often held hostage to the
whims of even small players – as happened in Copenhagen and Cancún when Sudan and Bolivia and a few other
nations whose emissions of warming pollution are tiny. The UN system has also relied on legally binding
agreements, which sound good in theory yet have proved difficult to tailor and adjust in light of the many
different interests that must be reflected in any serious international pact to control emissions.
More progress will come from shifting efforts on three fronts........... Full Report.
|Members of delegations at a UN climate change conference. Photograph: Olivier
United States: Tornadoes devastate South, killing at least 251
Posted April 28, 2011
PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. — Massive tornadoes tore a town-flattening streak across the South, killing at least
250 people in six states and forcing rescuers to carry some survivors out on makeshift stretchers of splintered
debris. Two of Alabama's major cities were among the places devastated by the deadliest twister outbreak in
nearly 40 years.
As day broke Thursday, people in hard-hit areas surveyed obliterated homes and debris-strewn streets. Some
told of deadly winds whipping through within seconds of weather alerts broadcast during the storms Wednesday
afternoon and evening
"It happened so fast it was unbelievable," said Jerry Stewart, a 63-year-old retired firefighter who was picking
through the remains of his son's wrecked home in Pleasant Grove, a suburb of Birmingham. "They said the
storm was in Tuscaloosa and it would be here in 15 minutes. And before I knew it, it was here."
Full report HERE
Greenland cold snap linked to Viking disappearance
Mon May 30, 4:37 pm ET
OSLO (Reuters) – A cold snap in Greenland in the 12th century may help explain why Viking settlers vanished
from the island, scientists said on Monday.
The report, reconstructing temperatures by examining lake sediment cores in west Greenland dating back 5,600
years, also indicated that earlier, pre-historic settlers also had to contend with vicious swings in climate on icy
"Climate played (a) big role in Vikings' disappearance from Greenland," Brown University in the United States said
in a statement of a finding that average temperatures plunged 4 degrees Celsius (7F) in 80 years from about 1100.
Such a shift is roughly the equivalent of the current average temperatures in Edinburgh, Scotland, tumbling to
match those in Reykjavik, Iceland. It would be a huge setback to crop and livestock production.
"There is a definite cooling trend in the region right before the Norse disappear," said William D'Andrea of Brown
University, the lead author of the study in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Researchers have scant written or archaeological records to figure out why Viking settlers abandoned colonies on
the western side of the island in the mid-1300s and the eastern side in the early 1400s.
Conflicts with indigenous Inuit, a search for better hunting grounds, economic stresses and natural swings in
climate, perhaps caused by shifts in the sun's output or volcanic eruptions, could all be factors.
LITTLE ICE AGE
Scientists have previously suspected that a cooling toward a "Little Ice Age" from the 1400s gradually shortened
growing seasons and added to sea ice that hampered sailing links with Iceland or the Nordic nations.
The study, by scientists in the United States and Britain, added the previously unknown 12th century temperature
plunge as a possible trigger for the colonies' demise. Vikings arrived in Greenland in the 980s, during a warm period
like the present.
"You have an interval when the summers are long and balmy and you build up the size of your farm, and then
suddenly year after year, you go into this cooling trend, and the summers are getting shorter and colder and you
can't make as much hay," D'Andrea said.
The study also traced even earlier swings in the climate to the rise and fall of pre-historic peoples on Greenland
starting with the Saqqaq culture, which thrived from about 4,500 years ago to 2,800 years ago.
Scientists fear that the 21st century warming is caused by climate change, stoked by a build-up of greenhouse
gases from human activities. An acceleration of warming could cause a meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet,
raising world sea levels.
Reuters – An iceberg floats in the sea ice near the town of Uummannaq in western
Greenland March 18, 2010. REUTERS/Svebor
|Grandmothers Make Solar Panels and Change Lives for Many in India and Africa -
Inspiring and encouraging.
19,000 homes, 750 villages by 471 Grandmothers now in 19 countries and counting.
|2011 What a Year Here in Connecticut - More Climate
Worst October Snow Storm on Record in North East USA
By Colin Andrews
Posted November 3, 2011
“Southern Europe will be gripped by fierce heatwaves, drought in North Africa will be more common, and small
island states face ruinous storm surges from rising seas, according to a report by UN climate scientists.”
“In the worst scenario, human settlement in some areas could be wiped out, the report warns. “
“Record-busting temperatures in 2003 responsible for some 70,000 excess deaths across Europe may become
closer to average summer peaks by as early as mid-century, the report suggests”.
“ The eastern and southern United States and the Caribbean will probably face hurricanes amplified by heavier
rainfall and increased wind speeds”.
Southern Europe will be gripped by fierce heatwaves, drought in North Africa will be more common, and small
island states face ruinous storm surges from rising seas, according to a report by UN climate scientists.
The assessment is the most comprehensive probe yet by the 194-nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) into the impact of climate change on extreme weather events.
A 20-page draft "summary for policymakers" obtained by AFP says in essence that global warming will create
weather on steroids.
It also notes that these amped-up events -- cyclones, heat waves, diluvian rains, drought -- will hit the world
Subject to modification, the draft summary will be examined by governments at a six-day IPCC meeting starting
on Monday in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
In the worst scenario, human settlement in some areas could be wiped out, the report warns.
"If disasters occur more frequently and/or with greater magnitude, some local areas will become increasingly
marginal as places to live or in which to maintain livelihoods," it says.
"In such cases migration becomes permanent and could introduce new pressures in areas of relocation. For
locations such as atolls, in some cases it is possible that many residents will have to relocate."
Three years in the making, the underlying 800-page report synthesises thousands of recent, peer-reviewed
The authors expresses high confidence in some findings but stresses uncertainty in others, mainly due to lack of
They also emphasise that the vulnerability of human settlements depends as much or more on exposure,
preparedness and the capacity to respond as it does on the raw power of Nature's violent outburts.
Average global temperatures have risen by nearly 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial
times, with forecasts for future warming ranging between an additional 1.0 C to 5.0 C (1.8-9.0 F) by 2100.
But these worldwide figures mask strong regional differences.
Among the findings:
Western Europe is at risk from more frequent heat waves, in particular along the Mediterranean rim.
Record-busting temperatures in 2003 responsible for some 70,000 excess deaths across Europe may become
closer to average summer peaks by as early as mid-century, the report suggests.
-- The eastern and southern United States and the Caribbean will probably face hurricanes amplified by heavier
rainfall and increased wind speeds.
Greater population density in exposed areas, rising property values and inadequate infrastructure will boost
vulnerability, the draft warns. Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, is seen by some scientists as
an example of just such an confluence.
-- For small island states, the top threat is incursion from rising seas, which not only erodes shorelines but
poisons aquifers and destroys farmland as well.
Already measurable, these impacts are "very likely" -- a 90-percent or greater probability -- to become worse
over time, even intolerable, the report concludes.
"In some cases, there may be a need to consider permanent evacuation," it says.
-- Climate models hold out the prospect of more droughts for West Africa, raising the spectre of famine in
regions where daily life is already a hand-to-mouth experience for millions.
Factor in the biggest population boom of any continent over the next half-century and the danger of food
"insecurity" in Africa becomes even greater, it cautions.
-- In South Asia and Southeast Asia, computer models see a doubling in the frequency of devastating
rainstorms. In East Asia, exceptional heatwaves will become hotter, and less exceptional.
By mid-century, temperature peaks in East Asia will be around 2.0 C (3.6 F) more than today, and by 2100
some 4.0 C (7.2 F), even under scenarios that see some efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The IPCC co-won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize after publishing a landmark "assessment report" that sparked
worldwide awareness about climate change and its impacts. That document made only a brief reference to
extreme weather events, leaving a gap that the panel hopes to fill with the new report.
The draft summary for policymakers will be reviewed, line-by-line, during a joint meeting of the IPCC's
Working Group I, which focuses on physical science, and Working Group II, which examines impacts. It is set
to be released on Friday...
|Regions must brace for weather extremes: UN climate panel
By Marlowe Hood | AFP – 13 Nov 2011
Climate Change Continued