Canada Losing Its Seasons — Winter is in full retreat

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By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 11 2013 (IPS) 

“Canada is not a country, it’s winter,” Canadians say with pride. But the nation’s long, fearsome winters will live only in memory and song for Canadian children born this decade.Winters are already significantly warmer and shorter than just 30 years ago. The temperature regimes and plant life of the south have marched more than 700 kilometres northward, new research shows.

The frozen north is leaving and won’t be back for millennia due to heat-trapping carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, experts say.

By 2091, the north will have seasons, temperatures and possibly vegetation comparable to those found today 20 to 25 degrees of latitude further south, said Ranga Myneni of the Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University.

“If we don’t curb carbon emissions, Arctic Sweden might be more like the south of France by the end of the century,” Myneni, co-author of the Nature Climate Change study published Sunday, told IPS.

Full story here

Killer Heat Waves and Floods Linked to Climate Change

More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 - a repeat of 2010.
More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 – a repeat of 2010.

“The first law of humanity is not to kill your children.”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 27 2013 (IPS)

Killer heat waves, floods and storms are increasingly caused by climate change, new research reveals.

Scientists in Germany say they have found how greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels are helping to trap the jet stream, resulting in extraordinary weather such as the 2010 Pakistan flood and the 2011 heat wave in the United States.

Human-driven climate change repeatedly disturbs the flow of atmospheric waves around the globe’s Northern hemisphere, said lead author Vladimir Petoukhov of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.rossby.waves1_

Giant atmospheric waves called Rossby waves are meanders in the strong, high-altitude winds known as jet streams and have a major influence on weather. These wave movements are caused by the difference in temperatures between the cold air from the Arctic and hot air from the tropics.

When the waves shift north, they suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the U.S., and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic, said Petoukhov.

“During several recent extreme weather events, these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks,” he said. “So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays.”

This unnatural pattern is due to human heating of the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels, according to the study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, this heating of the atmosphere is wildly uneven. The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the global temperature rise of 0.8C and that affects the Rossby waves and is slowing the jet stream.

“(Our research) complements previous research that already linked such phenomena to climate change,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a co-author of the study. Continue reading

80 percent of Arctic Ice Lost Compared to 30 Years Ago

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[This is my first exclusive blog post – virtually everything else on this site are my published articles. Not sure if I’ll have time to do more. Let me know what you think – Stephen ]

A new study released Feb 13 revealed that the volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. Ice volume in September 2012 had fallen 80 percent compared with the volume of ice in September 1980 according to the latest data from European Space Agency satellite, CryoSat-2. As the Arctic heats up Most of the ice loss has been in recent years. Between 2003 and 2012 the volume declined a whopping 36 percent. Summers with a sea ice-free Arctic are only a few years away, scientists now agree. This will have significant and permanent impacts on weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere.

My previous article  Ice-Free Arctic Is “Uncharted Territory” documented last September’s one year record area decline of 18 percent. Here’s what this means:

The impacts are already being felt across the entire northern hemisphere. The loss of sea ice in recent years has been affecting weather patterns, recent research has shown. The all-important jet stream – the west-to-east winds that are the boundary between the cold Arctic and the warm mid-latitudes – is slowing down, moving north and become more erratic.

When continent-sized areas of the Arctic Ocean flip from the all-white ice to dark blue, tremendous amounts of heat are absorbed from the 24-hour summer sun. When the bitter cold Arctic winter sets in over the next few weeks, all the heat in the ocean must be released into the atmosphere before ice can form again.

The Arctic will be ice-covered in winter for decades to come but what’s fundamentally changed is that every fall, unprecedented amounts of heat and water vapour will be released into the atmosphere.

“The polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate change catastrophe,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

As the sea ice declines, Arctic temperatures increase, thawing more and more permafrost, which will release more climate-heating carbon and methane. Permafrost is frozen soil, sediment and rock spanning 13 million square kilometres of the land in Alaska, Canada, Siberia and parts of Europe. It has twice the carbon that the atmosphere currently holds.

A Swedish study released Feb 17 has found a link between sea ice declines and increases in methane emissions. Methane has 40x the warming of carbon. This is may lead to an even faster meltdown of the Arctic risking the release of huge amounts of permafrost carbon and methane.

Wisdom of Elders Better Than Science or the Internet: “They Still Know How to Cook Mammoth”

Petr Kaurgin, a Chukchi reindeer herder from Siberia. Photo: Citt Williams

by Stephen Leahy

First published at National Geographic’s NewsWatch

 “Our elders are the best source of information. Better than science or the internet,” said Petr Kaurgin, a Chukchi reindeer herder from the remote Turvaurgin nomadic tribal community in north-eastern Siberia.

Kaurgin delivered his message to climate scientists from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other Indigenous peoples at the closing of the Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop here in Cairns, Australia.

“We need to listen to the wisdom of the elders. We can use everything in nature. But we must not break or destroy things, ” he said through a translator.

It was -45C when Kaurgin left his home to bring his people’s message to climate experts here in the hot, wet tropical part of Australia. The IPCC is the world authority on the science of climate change. And along with the United Nations University (UNU) organized the workshop to figure out how to incorporate Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.

“When we love the land where we live only then we are happy,” he said.

Kaurgin’s people and other local Siberian communities have been experiencing the impacts of climate change such as melting permafrost for the last 20 years said Tero Mustonen, Head of the Village of Selkie in North Karelia, Finland.

For complete article see Nat Geo’s NewsWatch

Global Warming to Ignite the Carbon Bomb in Northern Forests

Anaktuvuk River peat fire 2007

“In a warmer world, there will be more fire”

Fires already burn an area larger than India every year.

By Stephen Leahy

VANCOUVER, Feb 29, 2012 (IPS)

Rising temperatures are drying out northern forests and peatlands, producing bigger and more intense fires. And this will only get much worse as the planet heats up from the use of ever larger amounts of fossil fuels, scientists warned last week at the end of the major science meeting in Vancouver.

“In a warmer world, there will be more fire. That’s a virtual certainty,” said Mike Flannigan, a forest researcher at the University of Alberta, Canada.

“I’d say a doubling or even tripling of fire events is a conservative estimate,” Flannigan told IPS.

While Flannigan’s research reveals forest fire risk may triple in future, a similar increase in peat fires will be far more dangerous. There are millions of square kilometres of tundra and peatlands in the northern hemisphere and they hold more than enough carbon to ramp up global temperatures high enough to render most of the planet uninhabitable if they burn.

A forest fire in Indonesia that ignited peatlands in 1997 smouldered for months, releasing the equivalent of 20 to 40 percent of the worldwide fossil fuel emissions for the entire year, he said.

“There is the potential for significant releases of carbon and other greenhouse gases (from future peat fires),” Flannigan said.

If peat fires release large amounts of carbon, then temperatures will rise faster and higher, leading to further drying of forests and peat, and increasing the likelihood of fires in what is called a positive feedback, he said.

When the increased fire from global warming was first detected in 2006, Johann Goldammer of the Global Fire Monitoring Center at Germany’s Freiburg University called the northern forest a “carbon bomb”. 

“It’s sitting there waiting to be ignited, and there is already ignition going on,” Goldammer said according to media reports in 2006.

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Continue reading

Jail Before Climate-Wrecking Tar Sands, Canadians Say

By Stephen Leahy

OTTAWA, Sep 27, 2011 (IPS)

More than 200 Canadians engaged in civil disobedience, with 117 arrested in Canada’s quiet capital city on Monday. The reason? To protest the Stephen Harper right-wing government’s open support for the oil industry and expanding production in the climate-disrupting tar sands.

Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, is arrested at the Sep. 26 tar sands protest. Credit:Renée Leahy/IPS

The normally placid and polite Canadians shouted, waved banners and demanded the closure of the multi-billion-dollar tar sands oil extraction projects in northern Alberta to protect the global climate and the health of local people and environment.

“People are here because they know that if we don’t turn away from the tar sands and fossil fuels soon it will be too late,” Peter McHugh, a spokesperson for Greenpeace Canada, told IPS.

“The tar sands are unsustainable. Canadians are willing to shift away from fossil fuels but our government isn’t,” Gabby Ackett a university student and protester, told IPS as she stood in front of a long line of police.

In what was proudly touted as “civil” civil disobedience, protesters aged 19 to 84 were arrested for using a step-stool to climb a low barrier separating them from the House of Commons, the seat of Canadian government. The police were friendly and accommodating because the organisers had promised there would be no violence.

“We live downstream and see the affects of tar sands pollution on the fish and the birds,” said George Poitras, a former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in northern Alberta.

“Some our young people have rare forms of cancer,” Poitras told more than 500 protesters.

“Expanding the tar sands is not the way to go in a world struggling with climate change,” he said.

Carbon emissions from the tar sands production have increased 300 percent since 1990 and, at 45 to 50 million tonnes annually, are greater than most countries. And that does not include the carbon contained in the oil itself.

When burned, the 1.6 million barrels of oil that are extracted every day will add 346 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere this year alone. That’s almost the entire emissions of the country of Australia. The oil industry is making billion-dollar investments in the tar sands to more than double production by 2025. Continue reading

Permafrost Melt Soon Irreversible Without Major Fossil Fuel Cuts

Thawing Permafrost Will Accelerate Climate Disruption

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 17, 2011 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

“Our model projects a starting point 15 to 20 years from now,” Schaefer told IPS. Continue reading