Category Archives: Oceans

Report finds “carbon sinks” insufficient in absorbing CO2 emissions

By Tom Bawden / The Independent

Carbon dioxide is being accumulated in the atmosphere at the fastest rate since records began, as scientists warn that the oceans and forests may have absorbed so much CO2 that their crucial function as “carbon sinks” is now severely threatened.

The jump in atmospheric CO2 is partly the result of rising carbon emissions as the world burns ever-more fossil fuels, according to the latest World Meteorological Organisation report, which finds the concentration of carbon increased by nearly three parts per million (ppm) to 396ppm last year.

But, crucially, preliminary data in the report indicates that the jump could also be attributed to “reduced CO2 uptake by the Earth’s biosphere” – the first time the effectiveness of the world’s great carbon sinks has been scientifically called into question.

Scientists said they were puzzled and extremely concerned by prospect of reduced absorption of the world’s oceans and plants, which they cannot explain and which threatens to accelerate the build-up of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere if the trend continues.

“That carbon dioxide concentrations continued to surge upwards last year is worrying news,” said Professor Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh.

“Of particular concern is the indication that carbon storage in the world’s forests and oceans may be faltering. So far these ‘carbon sinks’ have been locking away almost half of all the carbon dioxide we emit,” Professor Reay added.

“If they begin to fail in the face of further warming then our chances of avoiding dangerous climate change become very slim indeed.”

The plants and the oceans each typically absorb about a quarter of humanity’s CO2 emissions every year, with the other half going into the atmosphere, where it can remain for hundreds of years.

The last time there was a reduction in the biosphere’s ability to absorb carbon was in 1998, a year in which extensive forest fires and dry weather killed off lots of plants, dealing a blow to the world’s carbon sink.

But Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of the atmospheric research division at the WMO, said this time it is much more worrying because there have been no obvious impacts on the biosphere this year.

“This problem is very serious. It could be that the biosphere is already at its limit, or it may be close to reaching it. Or it may be that it just becomes less effective at absorbing carbon. But it’s still very concerning,” said Dr Tarasova.

The worst-case scenario in which the carbon sink ceased to function at all would double the rate at which CO2 emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, significantly increasing the fallout of climate change, such as storms, droughts and temperature increases, Dr Tarasova said.

The latest WMO survey packed a second environmental punch – revealing that the oceans are currently acidifying at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 300 million years.

This is because they are absorbing about 4kg of carbon dioxide for every person on the planet, the report says.

The WMO’s findings intensified calls for co-ordinated global action to limit global warming to 2C, beyond which its consequences become increasingly devastating.

“We are running out of time. Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The law of physics are non-negotiable,” said the WMO’s secretary-general Michel Jarraud. He added that, rather than rising, fossil fuel and other emissions badly need to come down.

Read more from The Independent:

Study suggests climate change has stunted fish size up to 29% over four decades

By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera

Climate change may be stunting fish growth, a new study has said. Fish sizes in the North Sea have shrunk dramatically, and scientists believe warmer ocean temperatures and less oxygenated water could be the causes.

The body sizes of several North Sea species have decreased by as much as 29 percent over a period of four decades, according to the report, published in the April issue of Global Change Biology.

The report presents evidence gathered as researchers followed six commercial fish species in the North Sea over 40 years. Their evidence showed that as water temperatures increased by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius, an accompanying reduction in fish size was observed.

It is generally accepted among scientists that decreased body size is a universal response to increasing temperatures, known as the “temperature size rule,” the report said. But before this report, led by scientists at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, there was no empirical evidence showing this response in marine fish species.

The scientists warned that fish stunting cannot be unequivocally blamed on temperature changes, but they did observe fish stunting across varying species and backgrounds that coincided with a period of increasing ocean temperature.

Other factors that could have influenced fish size include fisheries-induced evolution and intensive commercial fishing — which favors larger specimens. But, the scientists said, these causes would not be likely to affect growth rates across species, which was observed in the North Sea study.

Scientists at the University of Washington have been working on a similar study, looking at many species of fish from Alaska to California. Tim Essington, an associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at UW who is working on the study, said he was looking into whether changes in fish body size could be related to environmental parameters.

“We haven’t seen the same strong response,” Essington told Al Jazeera. “But we have seen variation in the sizes of some stocks, like halibut. Its body size has been shrinking sharply over the past 10 years, and has resulted in reduced catch quotas and higher prices at the supermarket.”

He said various factors explain why UW results were different from those of the Scottish team. University of Aberdeen scientists were looking at a much more localized area and a unique data set, and had many more years of data to make comparisons.

Overall, Essington said the Aberdeen findings represented a plausible hypothesis that should be looked at more closely, and that warmer temperatures could explain the stunting.

“Fish aren’t any different than us. It’s all about the difference between how much we eat and how much energy we expend. And they’re arguing that temperature is changing the fishes’ energy versus expension rates,” which could result in smaller sizes, Essington said.

The Aberdeen findings echoed earlier model-derived predictions that fish would shrink in warmer waters. Those projections for future fish size reduction are already being seen in the North Sea, scientists said.

The first global projection of the potential for fish stunting in warmer, less oxygenated oceans was carried out by the University of British Columbia in 2012, and published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The projection said changes in ocean and climate systems by 2050 could result in fish that are 14 to 24 percent smaller globally.

“It’s a constant challenge for fish to get enough oxygen from water to grow, and the situation gets worse as fish get bigger,” said Daniel Pauly, principal investigator with the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us Project, and the co-author of the UBC study.

The study warned that strategies must be developed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions or risk disrupting food security, fisheries and the very way ocean ecosystems work.

From Al Jazeera America:

Scientists: Climate change will damage Great Barrier Reef beyond recovery by 2030

By Agence France-Presse

Time is running out for Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, with climate change set to wreck irreversible damage by 2030 unless immediate action is taken, marine scientists said Thursday.

In a report prepared for this month’s Earth Hour global climate change campaign, University of Queensland reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said the world heritage site was at a turning point.

“If we don’t increase our commitment to solve the burgeoning stress from local and global sources, the reef will disappear,” he wrote in the foreword to the report.

“This is not a hunch or alarmist rhetoric by green activists. It is the conclusion of the world’s most qualified coral reef experts.”

Hoegh-Guldberg said scientific consensus was that hikes in carbon dioxide and the average global temperature were “almost certain to destroy the coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef for hundreds if not thousands of years”.

“It is highly unlikely that coral reefs will survive more than a two degree increase in average global temperature relative to pre-industrial levels,” he said.

“But if the current trajectory of carbon pollution levels continues unchecked, the world is on track for at least three degrees of warming. If we don’t act now, the climate change damage caused to our Great Barrier Reef by 2030 will be irreversible.”

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, teems with marine life and will be the focus of Australia’s Earth Hour—a global campaign which encourages individuals and organisations to switch off their lights for one hour on April 29 for climate change.

The report comes as the reef, considered one of the most vulnerable places in the world to the impacts of climate change, is at risk of having its status downgraded by the UN cultural organisation UNESCO to “world heritage in danger”.

Despite threats of a downgrade without action on rampant coastal development and water quality, Australia in December approved a massive coal port expansion in the region and associated dumping of dredged waste within the marine park’s boundaries.

The new report “Lights Out for the Reef“, written by University of Queensland coral reef biologist Selina Ward, noted that reefs were vulnerable to several different effects of climate change; including rising sea temperatures and increased carbon dioxide in the ocean, which causes acidification.

It found the rapid pace of global warming and the slow pace of coral growth meant the reef was unlikely to evolve quickly enough to survive the level of climate change predicted in the next few decades.

From Physorg:

New study finds acidification of Arctic Ocean exceeding all projections

By University of South Florida

Acidification of the Arctic Ocean is occurring faster than projected according to new findings published in the journal PLoS One. The increase in rate is being blamed on rapidly melting sea ice, a process that may have important consequences for health of the Arctic ecosystem.

Ocean acidification is the process by which pH levels of seawater decrease due to greater amounts of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the oceans from the atmosphere. Currently oceans absorb about one-fourth of the greenhouse gas. Lower pH levels make water more acidic and lab studies have shown that more acidic water decrease calcification rates in many calcifying organisms, reducing their ability to build shells or skeletons. These changes, in species ranging from corals to shrimp, have the potential to impact species up and down the food web.

The team of federal and university researchers found that the decline of sea ice in the Arctic summer has important consequences for the surface layer of the Arctic Ocean. As sea ice cover recedes to record lows, as it did late in the summer of 2012, the seawater beneath is exposed to carbon dioxide, which is the main driver of ocean acidification.

In addition, the freshwater melted from sea ice dilutes the seawater, lowering pH levels and reducing the concentrations of calcium and carbonate, which are the constituents, or building blocks, of the mineral aragonite. Aragonite and other carbonate minerals make up the hard part of many marine micro-organisms’ skeletons and shells. The lowering of calcium and carbonate concentrations may impact the growth of organisms that many species rely on for food.

The new research shows that acidification in surface waters of the Arctic Ocean is rapidly expanding into areas that were previously isolated from contact with the atmosphere due to the former widespread ice cover.

“A remarkable 20 percent of the Canadian Basin has become more corrosive to carbonate minerals in an unprecedented short period of time. Nowhere on Earth have we documented such large scale, rapid ocean acidification” according to lead researcher and ocean acidification project chief, U.S. Geological Survey oceanographer Lisa Robbins.

Globally, Earth’s ocean surface is becoming acidified due to absorption of man-made carbon dioxide. Ocean acidification models show that with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, the Arctic Ocean will have crucially low concentrations of dissolved carbonate minerals, such as aragonite, in the next decade.

In the Arctic, where multi-year sea ice has been receding, we see that the dilution of seawater with melted sea ice adds fuel to the fire of ocean acidification” according to co-author, and co-project chief, Jonathan Wynn, a geologist from the University of the South Florida. “Not only is the ice cover removed leaving the surface water exposed to man-made carbon dioxide, the surface layer of frigid waters is now fresher, and this means less calcium and carbonate ions are available for organisms.

Researchers were able to investigate seawater chemistry at high spatial resolution during three years of research cruises in the Arctic, alongside joint U.S.-Canada research efforts aimed at mapping the seafloor as part of the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf program. In addition to the NOAA supported ECS ship time, the ocean acidification researchers were funded by the USGS, National Science Foundation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Compared to other oceans, the Arctic Ocean has been rather lightly sampled. “It’s a beautiful but challenging place to work,” said Robert Byrne, a USF marine chemist. Using new automated instruments, the scientists were able to make 34,000 water-chemistry measurements from the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker. “This unusually large data set, in combination with earlier studies, not only documents remarkable changes in Arctic seawater chemistry but also provides a much-needed baseline against which future measurements can be compared.” Byrne credits scientists and engineers at the USF College of Marine Science with developing much of the new technology.

From University of South Florida News:

Ocean acidification exacerbating climate change damage

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

As if ocean acidification and climate change weren’t troubling enough (both of which are caused by still-rising carbon emissions), new research published in Nature finds that ocean acidification will eventually exacerbate global warming, further raising the Earth’s temperature.

Scientists have long known that tiny marine organisms—phytoplankton—are central to cooling the world by emitting an organic compound known as dimethylsulphide (DMS). DMS, which contains sulfur, enters the atmosphere and helps seed clouds, leading to a global cooling effect. In fact, in the past scientists have believed that climate change may actually increase DMS emissions, and offset some global warming, but they did not take into account the impact of acidification.

Researchers, headed by Katharina Six with the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, tested how acidification affects phytoplankton in the laboratory by lowering the pH (i.e. acidifying) in plankton-filled water tanks and measuring DMS emissions. When they set the ocean acidification levels for what is expected by 2100 (under a moderate greenhouse gas scenario) they found that cooling DMS emissions fell.

Plugging the results into global modeling system, Six says, “we get an extra warming of 0.23 to 0.48 degree Celsius from the proposed impact [by 2100],” adding that “less sulphur results in a warming of the Earth surface.” This creates a positive feedback loop that will likely have impacts that are anything but positive, according to scientists.

To date, the world has warmed approximately 0.8 degrees Celsius in the last century with a variety of impacts including worsening severe weather, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice, and imperiled species.

Six also notes that a warmer world does not necessarily mean a more productive world for phytoplankton as has been argued by researchers in the past.

“In former times it was assumed that phytoplankton potentially growth better in a warmer ocean,” she explained to “However, the basis for plant growth is the supply with nutrients. As the oceans will stabilize in the warmer climate, fewer nutrients will be transported into the sunlight zone. Earth system models, like the MPI-ESM that was used for our study, project a decrease in primary production of 17 percent at the end of this century for a moderate climate scenario. The impact from climate change alone led to a decrease in DMS emission of 7 percent.”

The results are still preliminary as researchers have yet to test how DMS emissions will by impacted in tropical and subtropical waters, focusing to date on polar and temperate waters. In addition, further modeling should be done in order to understand possible uncertainties according to Six.

Still, the evidence is strong enough that the researchers write in the paper that “this potential climate impact mechanism of ocean acidification should be considered in projections of future climate change.” Essentially raising current estimates for a moderate climate scenario by around 10 percent.

Ocean acidification, which has been dubbed “climate change’s equally evil twin” by U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Jane Lubchenco, is expected to have largely negative impacts on many marine species, including dissolving the shells of crustaceans and molluscs, hampering coral reefs, and even changing how far fish can hear.

So, how do we stop this from happening?

“There is only one answer,” Katharina Six told, “the abatement of fossil fuel emissions.”

From Mongabay: “Bad feedback: ocean acidification to worsen global warming

New study finds 80% of Caribbean coral reefs destroyed since 1960s

By Fiona Harvey / The Guardian

A major survey of the coral reefs of the Caribbean is expected to reveal the extent to which one of the world’s biggest and most important reserves of coral has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation.

The Catlin scientific survey will undertake the most comprehensive survey yet of the state of the region’s reefs, starting in Belize and moving on to Mexico, Anguilla, Barbuda, St Lucia, Turks & Caicos, Florida and Bermuda.

The Catlin scientists said the state of the regions’ reefs would act as an early warning of problems besetting all of the world’s coral. As much as 80% of Caribbean coral is reckoned to have been lost in recent years, but the survey should give a more accurate picture of where the losses have had most effect and on the causes.

Loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the Caribbean, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. Coral reefs provide a vital home for marine creatures, acting as a nursery for fish and a food resource for higher food chain predators such as sharks and whales.

Stephen Catlin, chief executive of the Catlin Group, said: “It is not only important that scientists have access to this valuable data, but companies such as ours must understand the impact that significant changes to our environment will have on local economies.”

Globally, coral reefs are under threat. The future of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is in doubt as mining and energy companies want to forge a shipping lane through it to form a more direct link with their export markets.

Warming seas owing to climate change can lead to coral being “bleached” – a state where the tiny polyps that build the reefs die off. The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts increasing frequency and severity of mass bleaching events as global warming takes effect.

Richard Vevers, director of the project, told the Guardian that one important role of the new survey would be to describe a new “baseline” to establish how far such problems have taken their toll to date, which will enable future scientists to judge how degradation – or conservation – progresses.

He said the team of scientists would also probe the underlying reasons for such degradation, with a view to informing conservation efforts.

The team will use satellite data as well as direct observations to assess the reefs. As part of the survey, they will develop software that marine scientists can apply to other reefs around the world. A new camera has been constructed to assist their efforts.

Vevers said: “The Caribbean was chosen to launch the global mission because it is at the frontline of risk. Over the last 50 years 80% of the corals have been lost due mainly coastal development and pollution. They now are also threatened by invasive species, global warming and the early effects of ocean acidification — it’s the perfect storm.”

From The Guardian:

Daniel Whittingstall: The Global Climate Predicament

White Clay is an unincorporated village with a population of 14 people in northwest Nebraska. The town sits on the border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota (also known as the Oglala Sioux Tribe).

White Clay lies on disputed land, merely 200 feet from the official reservation border and less than 3 miles from the center of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the largest town on the reservation.

Sale and possession of alcoholic beverages on the Pine Ridge is prohibited under tribal law. Except for a brief experiment with on-reservation liquor sales in the early 1970s, this prohibition has been in effect since the reservation lands were created.

White Clay has four off-sale beer stores licensed by the State of Nebraska which sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on Pine Ridge. These retailers routinely violate Nebraska liquor law by selling beer to minors and intoxicated persons, knowingly selling to bootleggers who resell the beer on the reservation, permitting on-premise consumption of beer in violation of restrictions placed on off-sale-only licenses, and exchanging beer for sexual favors. The vast majority of those who purchase beer in White Clay have in fact no legal place to consume it, since possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the Pine Ridge Reservation remain illegal under tribal law. Many people have died in the streets due to exposure, as the state of Nebraska fails to uphold state law or police White Clay. As long as the liquor stores in White Clay remains in business, the genocide of the Oglala Lakota people will continue.

Tribal activists of the Strong Heart Warrior Society have conducted annual blockades since 1999, trying to intercept alcohol and drugs being brought into the reservation. In June 2006 tribal activists protested beer sales by blockading the road from Pine Ridge to White Clay and confiscating beer bought in White Clay. These activists hoped to prevent bootlegging and illegal sales on the reservation. On June 9th of this year, young Lakota activists and their non-native allies held a blockade of the highway leading into White Clay, and gained concessions from law enforcement.

In solidarity with the Oglala Lakota people, members of Deep Green Resistance are assisting an action now to shut down the bars in White Clay forever.

Updates on action:

Sun. August 26, 2012 (All times MDT)

As of 10:00 PM: Police and firefighters unable to unlock the blockaders once at the jail. The five released without bail after agreeing to unlock themselves.

7:59 PM: Tribal police have come into Nebraska to block support to the folks on lockdown. Nebraska State Patrol has brought in a trailer and carried the lockdown, as a unit, onto the trailer (one person may have sustained injuries due to this police maneuver). They are now being transported to the jail. They are still locked together. Stay tuned for updates on the protestors’ status and information on how to help!

6:22 PM: Police are bringing in a livestock trailer to attempt to move the blockade as a unit to a different location. They have threatened the blockaders with felony charges. Blockaders have decided to hold their ground. This is what resistance looks like.

5:30 PM: Police have threatened to arrest another protester.

4:20 PM: There’s a line of cops, a line of warriors, and a line of blockaders. There’s a huge banner that says “Honor the Treaties”. Lakota people are chanting and drumming.

4:00 PM: All four bars in White Clay have been shut down. Two arrests have been made. Police have issued an ultimatum that all those locked down in White Clay must walk back to the reservation or they will be arrested.

By Daniel Whittingstall / Deep Green Resistance Vancouver

The Situation and Our Options

Increased concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG), primarily carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels for cheap energy, have driven global average temperatures to rise. While this in itself is cause for concern, the real distressing predicament lies within the many positive feedbacks that are at or near their tipping points.

One major positive feedback is the arctic permafrost where large amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) are stored underground. If the temperature continues to rise from the current 0.8C up to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels the permafrost will hit a tipping point and melt, releasing roughly 1,000 giga-tones of methane (which is 22 times more potent a greenhouse gas than C02 over a 100 yr. period, and 150 times more potent over a period of a couple years) into the atmosphere.

Since the global temperature is currently being raised due to Industrial Civilization’s increase of these GHG’s, and there is a time-lag between temperature rise and GHG levels (temperature catching up to where these gases have set the bar, roughly a 30 yr. time-lag), then all we need to do to find out how close we are to this tipping point is to look at current and historic levels of GHG’s and the correlating temperatures, right? Come walk with me for a moment.

Current C02 levels are at 395 ppm (C02 being the main factor in the last 180 yrs. of forcing temperature rise, most of which has increased in the past 30 yrs.). The last time C02 levels were this high was roughly 15 million years ago (mya), with temperatures roughly 3-6C above current levels (or 4-7C above pre-industrial times). It would be good to note here that projected emissions and C02 levels by 2030, if “business as usual” continues, will be around 516-774 ppm; levels closer to those of the Eocene 54-50 mya when temperatures were roughly 5-7C higher than today.

Since there is a time-lag between temperature rise and levels of C02 we can be certain that the temperature will rise 3-6C over the next 30 yrs. solely based on current levels of C02 alone. This of course would be the case without adding in any positive feedbacks like the melting of permafrost, arctic sea ice, ice caps, glaciers, ocean die offs due to acidification and rapid forest die offs due to drought/deforestation etc.

The thing is, the world has changed quite a bit in the last 15 myr. A lot more carbon, and other substances with the potential to turn into GHG’s, have been stored in the earths surface due to the resumption of glacial cycles (since 13 mya the earth has plummeted into glacial cycles-5 mya and rapid glacial cycles-2.5 mya), increasing the potential/possibility with which to warm the globe if they were ever to be fully released.

You see, the other tricky part about this time-lag is that if there was a huge spike in GHG’s over a shorter period of time, lets say 5-10 yrs. (which would definitely be the case if permafrost, ocean and forest die off positive feedbacks were to be pushed over their tipping points, thus releasing massive quantities of methane and C02), the global temperature rise would also increase at an exponential rate. Not to mention the fact that methane has a minute time-lag in comparison to C02.

So, a more realistic picture would be: current GHG levels will undeniably rise temperatures past the 1.5C mark in the next 10-15 yrs., pushing the permafrost over its tipping point and hurling it into a rapid positive feedback loop, drastically escalating the already exponential rate of global temperature rise. During (or even possibly before) this short process, every other positive feedback will come into play (this is because they are all just as sensitive to temperature and/or C02 increases as permafrost is) forcing the global temperature to rise beyond any conservatively or reasonably projected model.

What’s really concerning in all this is that the arctic sea ice, permafrost, glaciers and ice caps have already begun their near rapid melt, and we continue to increase our output of fossil fuel GHG emissions and deforest the earth. Does anyone know what more than a 5-7C temperature rise looks like? Near-term extinction for the majority of biological life, including humans. It means that almost all fresh and drinkable water will dry up. It means that the sea levels will rise by roughly 120 meters (394 ft). It means that the current levels of oxygen in the atmosphere right now will become so low that neither I nor you will be able to breath it. This is the part where most people start formulating rebuttals that usually include the word “alarmist!”. Well, if the bare facts of our current situation are not alarming then I would think we have an even bigger problem.

There are two distinct scenarios here that I feel need to be pointed out (most often they are not). The first one goes like this: if we keep destroying the Earth and continue down this path of “business as usual” then the biosphere will collapse and along with it the global economy and ultimately industrial civilization.

The other scenario goes like this: if the destruction perpetuated by industrial civilization is somehow halted, subsequently averting total biosphere collapse, then the global economy and industrial civilization will collapse.

Basically, in the next 10-15 yrs., it is unequivocal that either way the global economy and industrial civilization (all that we who are living within this structure know and rely on) will collapse.

Kind of makes the worry of a national economic recession seem like a bad joke. The question is then: which scenario would you prefer? The near extinction of all life on earth (including your own species), or the end of a really bad experiment in social organization that has almost, but not quite, destroyed the planet?

The only chance of survival is to immediately end the consumption of fossil fuels (on all levels and in every way, including well-intentioned “green-energy-solutions” that pump huge amounts of C02 into the atmosphere annually during set-up and production), and to quickly begin sequestering GHG’s from the atmosphere. Best way to end this consumption would be to shut down all fossil fuel extractions, and to lock up all ready-to-be-used fossil fuels: gasoline, coal, stored natural gas, and throw away the key. Best way to sequester the GHG’s (semi-naturally) would be to plant native-to-bioregional plants/trees wherever they had been destroyed, and to grow our own food locally (in the parks, on roadways, on rooftops, and on the front/back lawns of every sub-urban home).

These are our only two options, and we need to do both at the same time. Realistically this means we will need to bring down atmospheric C02 levels to where they were in pre-industrial times. In order to have any certainty of success we must be 50% of the way there by about 2016, and 100% there by 2020.

Yes, things look bad. But it all depends on your perspective. One good thing is that civilization does not represent the whole of humanity, nor does it represent any other species of life on earth. So, on the one hand it doesn’t look too good for civilization if people decide to rise up and end this insanity (which would subsequently be a positive effect on the biosphere and the rest of humanity). But, on the other hand, well…not so good for anyone.

Nevertheless be encouraged, we still have a small window of time in which to succeed!

Overview of Data

Below are dates with projected increases of both C02 and global temperature, along with projected tipping points for major positive feedback loops around the world.

Reasonable Estimation of Temperature Correlation With C02 Levels

These calculations are based only on current levels of C02 and historic corresponding
temperature level values, no future increase of C02, no current or future positive feedbacks.
Current level of C02 395 ppm = 4.5C increase above current temp, average between 3-6C
(2013, 0.8C).

35 year time-lag = 2048 at 4.5C increase

Estimates For C02 Increase

C02 ppm increase at current rate, five year increments

2013 2018 2023 2028 2033 2038 2043
395 405 415 425 435 445 455

C02 ppm increase at current rate with increase of fossil fuel consumption and positive feedbacks

2013 2018 2023 2028 2033 2038 2043
395 415 435 455 495 535 575

Estimates For Temperature Increase

Temperature based on current trends over past 20 years (without further inputs)

2013 2020 2030 2040 2050 2060
0.80 0.90 1.05 1.20 1.35 1.50

Temperature increase based on C02 correlation/35 year time lag

2013 2018 2023 2028 2033 2038 2043 2048
0.80 1.33 1.86 2.39 2.92 3.45 3.98 4.51

Temperature increase based on C02 correlation and forcing from positive feedbacks

2013 2018 2023 2028 2033 2038 2043 2048
0.80 1.45 2.23 3.04 4.06 4.88 5.90 6.90

2050 Conservative estimates based on current trends for major tipping points
2018 Reasonable estimates based on C02 and positive feedbacks for major tipping points
2034 Average between both estimates for major tipping points

Individual Tipping Points for Positive Feedbacks
2016 1.11C increase -Arctic sea ice tipping point (warmer oceans)
2018 1.33C increase -Arctic clathrate tipping point (methane release)
2019 1.43C increase -Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet tipping points (sea level rise)
2020 1.54C increase -Permafrost tipping point (methane release)
2028 455ppm C02 -Ocean acidification tipping point (C02 release) Temp Variations

Fig. 1. This shows the variations between projected increases in temperature: bottom line (brown) represents the rate of temperature increase based on the C02 correlation with a 35 year time lag, and top line (green) represents the temperature increase with C02 correlation including forcing from positive feedbacks.

Overview of Concepts in Climate Change

Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occurring chemical compound and is a gas at standard temperature/pressure. CO2 exists in Earth’s atmosphere as part of the carbon cycle, emitted through plant and animal respiration, fermentation of liquids, volcanic eruptions as well as various other means. Levels of CO2 concentrations have risen and fallen over the past 3 billion years but with striking clockwork over the last 800 thousand years, rising and falling on a cycle of 40-100 thousand years (Fig. 2).

Ice core data indicate that CO2 levels varied within a range of 180 to 300 ppm over the last 650 thousand years (Solomon et al. 2007; Petit et al. 1999), corresponding with fluctuations from glacial and interglacial periods, with the last interglacial period nearing levels of 290 ppm (Fischer et al., 1999).


Fig. 2. This is a record of atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 800,000 years from Antarctic ice cores (blue line), and a reconstruction of temperature based on hydrogen isotopes found in the ice (orange line). Concentrations of CO2 in 2012, at 392 parts per million (ppm), from the Mauna Loa Observatory are shown by the blue star at the top (Simple Climate, 2012. Credit to: Jeremy Shakun/Harvard University).

Near the end of the Last Glacial period, around 13,000 years ago, CO2 levels rose from about 180 ppm to about 260 ppm and leveled off until the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700’s when it began to climb from 280 ppm (Neftel et al. 1985). While that 260 ppm of CO2 had remained more or less unchanged for the last 10,000 years, roughly since early Civilization, it was the actions of Civilization through the burning of fossil fuels, since the Industrial Revolution, that caused a dramatic increase over the last century (Blunden et al. 2012, S130).

The contribution of Industrial Civilization’s CO2 comes mainly from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories and from the production of electricity and deforestation for timber and agricultural lands. Today the monthly mean concentration levels, (Fig. 3), are around 394 ppm (Recent CO2 readings for 2012 at the Mauna Loa Observatory by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration), increasing about 100 ppm from pre-industrial times in just the last 100 years and currently rising at a rate of 2 ppm each year.co2_trend_mlo

Fig. 3. This table shows monthly mean CO2 measurements for the years 2008 to 2012 from the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. The dashed red line represents monthly mean values, and the black line is representative of monthly mean values with the correction for average seasonal cycles (NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, 2012).

Carbon dioxide has a long lifespan once emitted into the atmosphere. “About half of a CO2 pulse to the atmosphere is removed over a time scale of 30 years; a further 30% is removed within a few centuries; and the remaining 20% will typically stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years.” (Solomon et al. 2007).

Therefore, the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere will possibly be persisting long enough to mingle with future emissions that are projected to be higher. Based on CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels in the year 2000, the IPCC calculated out the possible future increase of emissions if Civilization continued at that current rate of economic and consumer growth (increased fossil fuel consumption). “The projected emissions of energy-related CO2 in 2030 are 40–110 % higher than in 2000” (Solomon et al. 2007).

This could result in an increase of atmospheric CO2 from levels that were 369 ppm at the time, to 516-774 ppm by 2030 (Fig. 4); levels closer to those of the Eocene, 700-900 ppm roughly 54-50 million years ago (Paul N. Pearson 2000), when temperatures were about 5-7 degrees Celsius warmer than today and sea levels were roughly 120 m higher (Sluijs et al. 2008).

c02 increase

Fig. 4. This table shows the variations between projected C02 increases: bottom line (green) is the current rate of increase at 2ppm/yr. based on previous ten year average, top line (orange) is current rate plus increased Industrial Civilization forcing and positive feedbacks.

Greenhouse Earth

The environmental effects of carbon dioxide are of significant interest. Earth is suitable for life due to its atmosphere that works like a greenhouse. A fairly constant amount of sunlight strikes the planet with roughly 30 percent being reflected away by clouds and ice/snow cover, leaving the uncovered continents, oceans and atmosphere to absorb the remaining 70 percent. Similar to a thermostat, this global control system is set by the amount of solar energy retained by Earth’s atmosphere, allowing enough sunlight to be absorbed by land and water and transforming it into heat, which is then released from the planet’s surface and back into the air as infrared radiation.

Just as in the glass ceiling and walls of a greenhouse, atmospheric gasses, most importantly carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane, trap a fair amount of this released heat in the lower atmosphere then return some of it to the surface. This allows a relatively warm climate where plants, animals and other organisms can exist. Without this natural process the average global temperature would be around -18 degrees Celsius; see more (Solomon et al. 2007).

The current levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, principally carbon dioxide (Fig. 3), in the Earth’s atmosphere today are higher and have the potential to trap far more radiative heat than has been experienced within the last 15 million years (Tripati 2009), amplifying the greenhouse effect and raising temperatures worldwide. “The total CO2 equivalent (CO2-eq) concentration of all long-lived GHG’s is currently estimated to be about 455 ppm CO2-eq” (Solomon et al. 2007), as of 2005. These other contributors of GHG’s include methane released from landfills, agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes, the loss of forests that would otherwise store CO2, and from the melting of permafrost in the arctic.

According to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report “These gases accumulate in the atmosphere, causing concentrations to increase with time. Significant increases in all of these gases have occurred in the industrial era”, and the increases have all been attributed to Industrial Civilization’s activities (Solomon et al. 2007).

Historically, through the rise and fall of temperatures over the last 800 thousand years, temperatures have risen first, then CO2 would increase, accelerating even more temperature rise until a maximum when both would then drop, creating a glacial period. Though CO2 levels over this period of time have not been the trigger for temperature rise and interglacial periods, they either have occurred at the same time or have led positive feedback global warming during the stages of deglaciation, greatly amplifying climate variations and increasing the global warming capacity due to the greenhouse effect (Shakun et al. 2012), (Solomon et al. 2007).

What makes the present situation unpredictable to some extent is that never before has CO2 climbed so rapidly and so high, far ahead of temperature. Furthermore, this extra heat-trapping gas released into the atmosphere takes time to build up to its full effect, this is due to the delaying effect of the oceans as they catch up with the temperature of the atmosphere; deep bodies of water take longer to warm. There is a twenty-five to thirty-five year time lag between CO2 being released into the atmosphere and its full heat-increasing potential taking effect.

This means that most of the increase of global temperature rise observed thus far has not been caused by current levels of carbon dioxide but by levels that already have been in the atmosphere before the 1980’s. What is troublesome here is that these last three decades since then have seen the levels of greenhouse gases increase dramatically. On top of the current temperature rise we see now there is already
roughly another thirty years of accelerated warming built into the climate system.

There are many other Civilizational factors that contribute to this global rise in temperature outside of GHG’s. While these extra factors do supply further warming and are just as serious a threat to a semi-stable climate, they are not as long lasting.

One of the most notable of these, being the second largest Civilizational contributor to global temperature rise, is black carbon (BC), also called soot (T. C. Bond et al 2013). The greatest sources of BC are the incomplete burning of biomass (forest and savanna burning for agricultural expansion) and unfiltered diesel exhaust for transportation and industrial uses (Ramanathan and Carmichael 2008). There is a two fold warming effect from the BC.

First, the dark particles of this soot absorb incoming heat from solar radiation and directly heat the surrounding air, though only for a short period of time. Secondly, the soot particles in the air, once carried from their point of origin, are increasingly falling on snow and ice changing these reflective surfaces into absorptive ones, decreasing the albedo (reflectivity). Therefore, BC deposits have increased the melting rate of snow and ice.The most alarming of these effects can be seen on glaciers, ice sheets and the arctic sea ice (T. C. Bond et al 2013). While reductions in BC would have immediate but not long lasting effects on temperature rise, it would increase the chances of averting further warming

Nevertheless, the projected rise due to the continued increase in levels of GHG’s will not be prevented without
reducing overall emissions.


The Earth is warming and this time the trend is far from natural. The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s (Fig. 4). On a geologic timescale this swift increase is alarming. When temperatures have risen in the past, warming the planet at several points between ice ages, the average length of time this process has taken is roughly 5,000 years to increase global temperatures by 5 degrees.

In this past century alone the temperature has risen ten times the average rate of ice age recovery warming, a recent trend not only driven by the rise of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but also amplified by them.


Fig. 4. This table shows global temperature anomaly from 1880 through to 2011. Black lines are representative of annual mean variances and the red line is representative of five year running temperature mean’s. (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2012)

Continued economic, global population and energy consumption growth over the next few decades will consequently increase not only CO2 emissions, but also the rate and quantity with which they accumulate in the atmosphere. This is a business-as-usual scenario where efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, namely CO2, have fallen short of any earnest mitigation, “locking in climate change at a scale that would profoundly and adversely affect all of human Civilization and all of the world’s major ecosystems” (Allison et al. 2009); see scenario A1FI (Fig. 5).

Even if the global mean temperature only rises another 2 degrees before the end of this century, it would be a larger increase in temperature rise than any century-long trend in the last 10,000 years. A one degree global temperature rise is also significant for the reason that it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much; even more so is the significance of subsequent ecosystem collapse in climate sensitive areas such as the Arctic due to such a rise.


Fig. 5. This is a reconstruction of global average temperatures relative to 1800-1900 (blue), observed global average temperatures since 1880 to 2000 (black), and projected global average temperatures out to 2100 within three scenarios (green, yellow and red), (Allison et al. 2009). Scenario A1FI, adopted from the IPCC AR4 2007 report, represents projections for a continued global economic growth trend, and a continued aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels; the FI stands for “fossil fuel intensive”.

Arctic Warming
The greatest changes in temperature over the last hundred years has been in the northern hemisphere, where they have risen 0.5 degrees Celsius higher since 1880 than in the southern hemisphere (Fig. 6). The Arctic is experiencing the fastest rate of warming as its reflective covering of ice and snow shrinks and even more in sensitive polar regions.

One of the main facets that are being affected by the increase of temperature in the Arctic is the potential collapse of Arctic ecosystems that succeed in the region. Ecosystems that are under pressure and that are at their tipping points can be defined as having their thresholds forced beyond what they can cope with. Different components of ecosystems experience diverse changes. In this instance,
“ecosystem tipping features” refers to the components of the ecosystem that show critical transitions when experiencing abrupt change (Duarte et al. 2012).


Fig. 6. This table shows both annual and five year mean temperature variances between 1880 and 2011. Temperature mean averages for the northern hemisphere are in red and southern hemisphere averages are in blue (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2012).

Sea Ice Loss
The significance of sea ice loss in the Arctic relates to a serious tipping point in the Arctic marine ecosystem which is given by the temperature at which water changes state from solid to liquid. Ice responds suddenly to changes at this temperature. This causes warming and loss of sea ice to amplify the potential changes to the climate including a reduction in albedo with the declining sea ice. Crossing the tipping point sets in motion many changes that further increases temperature in the Arctic region on top of current global warming (Duarte et al. 2012).

The ice that encompasses the Arctic has slowly been dwindling ever since a catastrophic collapse in the Arctic region in 2007. Since that point, close to two thirds of the ice has vanished compared to a decade earlier when the loss of sea ice was significantly smaller (Anderson, 2009). Scientists had previously predicted that the ice in the Arctic region would not be reduced to the point that it reached in 2007 until at least 2050, and in 2012 it dropped to levels much lower than in 2007 (Fig. 7). It is now predicted that the Arctic summer ice could disappear entirely as early as 2013.

The vulnerable setting of the Arctic region has certainly made it easy for global warming to have significant influences on the natural climate processes. The white ice naturally reflects sunlight back into space, but with the melting of the ice and subsequent open, dark sea water, the reflectivity is reduced and therefore the heat is retained instead. The arctic seas warm up, melting more ice, and then even more is absorbed and melted by the increasing water temperature change. This creates a dangerous feedback loop that intensifies melting and overall temperatures.

Observations and climate models are in agreement that through the 21st century, Arctic sea ice extent will continue to decline in response to fossil fuels being burnt and greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Through the influxes of heat being circulated, temperature for the terrestrial and aquatic systems continues to increase, delaying ice growth during winter and autumn only to increase the temperature on the region.


Fig. 7. This table shows the ice volume anomalies of the Arctic ocean, with respect to the volume of ice over a period between 1979 to 2011. (Polar Science Center, 2011)

Permafrost Melt
One of the most worrisome scenarios of a positive feedback is the thawing of huge quantities of organic material locked in frozen soil beneath Arctic landscapes. Vast quantities of carbon and methane from once rotting vegetation are stored in the frozen soil. This frozen soil is called permafrost and it contains significantly more carbon than is currently in the atmosphere.

Permafrost is defined as subsurface Earth materials remaining below 0°C for two consecutive years. It is thoroughly widespread in the Northern Hemisphere where permafrost regions occupy 22% of the land surface (Schuur et al. 2008).

The temperature, thickness and geographic continuity of permafrost are controlled by the surface energy balance. Permafrost thickness geographically ranges from 1 meter to 1450 meters depending on where the permafrost is situated. The layer that thaws in the summer and refreezes in the winter is referred to as the active layer. The thickness of the active layer ranges between 10 centimeters and 2 meters. Beneath the active layer is the transition zone, the buffer between the active layer and the more stable permafrost. The thickness of the active layer is significant because it influences plant rooting depth, hydrological processes, and the quantity of organic soil matter uncovered to the above-freezing seasonal temperatures. The growing concern is that permafrost’s relationship with the Arctic warming could lead to drastic changes for the region.

The processes that involve the transfer of stored carbon into the atmosphere have the potential to significantly increase climate warming in the Arctic region (Schuur et al. 2008). Since it only would take a few more degrees in temperature rise to tip the permafrost into rapid thawing and subsequently release huge amounts of stored carbon and methane, methane being over 20x as potent a greenhouse gas, this would result in a much larger feedback into the global GHG level rise.

A Warmer World

Industrial Civilization is on a path to heat the Earth up by 4 to 7 degrees Celsius before the middle of this century if it fails to end its carbon emissions, triggering a cascade of cataclysmic changes that will include the increase of extreme heat-waves, prolonged droughts, intensified weather patterns, the total loss of Arctic sea ice, rapid decline in global food availability, sea level rise affecting billions of people, and eventually an abrupt extinction of the majority of biological life on earth.

The solution, while not a simple one to execute, is clear: Industrial Civilization must end its reliance on fossil fuels and begin to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere immediately, reducing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 down to a safe level.

A full reference list for this article is available here:

Glaciologist says carbon emissions to date will cause 69 foot sea level rise

By Chris Mooney / Mother Jones

Last week, a much-discussed new paper in the journal Nature seemed to suggest to some that we needn’t worry too much about the melting of Greenland, the mile-thick mass of ice at the top of the globe. The research found that the Greenland ice sheet seems to have survived a previous warm period in Earth’s history—the Eemian period, some 126,000 years ago—without vanishing (although it did melt considerably).

But Ohio State University glaciologist Jason Box isn’t buying it.

At Monday’s Climate Desk Live briefing in Washington, DC, Box, who has visited Greenland 23 times to track its changing climate, explained that we’ve already pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide 40 percent beyond Eemian levels. What’s more, levels of atmospheric methane are a dramatic 240 percent higher—both with no signs of stopping. “There is no analogue for that in the ice record,” Box said.

And that’s not all. The present mass scale human burning of trees and vegetation for clearing land and building fires, plus our pumping of aerosols into the atmosphere from human pollution, weren’t happening during the Eemian. These human activities are darkening Greenland’s icy surface, and weakening its ability to bounce incoming sunlight back away from the planet. Instead, more light is absorbed, leading to more melting, in a classic feedback process that is hard to slow down.

“These giants are awake,” said Box of Greenland’s rumbling glaciers, “and they seem to have a bit of a hangover.”

To make matters worse, there’s also Antarctica, the other great planetary ice sheet, which contains 10 times as much total water as Greenland—much of which could also someday be translated into rising sea level. While Greenland is currently contributing twice as much water to sea level rise as Antarctica, that situation could change in the future. It’s kind of as though we’re in a situation of “ice sheet roulette” right now, wondering which one of the big ones will go first.

Box also provided a large-scale perspective on how much sea level rise humanity has already probably set in motion from the burning of fossil fuels. The answer is staggering: 69 feet, including water from both Greenland and Antarctica, as well as other glaciers based on land from around the world.

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Sea Shepherd crew intercepts Japanese whaling ship

By Agence France-Presse

Anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd said Wednesday it had intercepted the Japanese fleet in its annual Southern Ocean hunt “before a single harpoon has been fired”.

Sea Shepherd claims to have saved the lives of 4,000 whales over the past eight whaling seasons with ever-greater campaigns of harassment against the Japanese harpoon fleet.

The militant environmentalist group said the Brigitte Bardot, a former ocean racer, had intercepted the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No. 3 in the Southern Ocean at a relatively northern latitude.

“Given that the large concentrations of whales are found further south, closer to the Antarctic continent where there are high concentrations of krill, this would indicate that they have not yet begun whaling,” said Brigitte Bardot captain Jean Yves Terlain.

Former Australian politician Bob Brown, who assumed leadership of the anti-whaling campaign from fugitive Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson due to legal issues earlier this month, said it was welcome news.

“It is likely that we have intercepted these whale poachers before a single harpoon has been fired,” said Brown.

Watson is wanted by Interpol after skipping bail last July in Germany, where he was arrested on Costa Rican charges relating to a high-seas confrontation over shark finning in 2002.

He is on board Sea Shepherd’s main ship, Steve Irwin, but has stepped down as skipper and has vowed to abide by a US court ruling in December banning the group from physically confronting any vessel in the Japanese fleet.

Read more from The Raw Story:

30 years of industrialization in China has destroyed at least 80% of coral reefs

By Agence France-Presse

China’s economic boom has seen its coral reefs shrink by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years, according to a joint Australian study, with researchers describing “grim” levels of damage and loss.

Scientists from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology said their survey of mainland China and South China Sea reefs showed alarming degradation.

“We found that coral abundance has declined by at least 80 percent over the past 30 years on coastal fringing reefs along the Chinese mainland and adjoining Hainan Island,” said the study, published in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Biology.

“On offshore atolls and archipelagos claimed by six countries in the South China Sea, coral cover has declined from an average of greater than 60 percent to around 20 percent within the past 10-15 years,” it added.

Coastal development, pollution and overfishing linked to the Asian giant’s aggressive economic expansion were the major drivers, the authors said, describing a “grim picture of decline, degradation and destruction”.

“China’s ongoing economic expansion has exacerbated many wicked environmental problems, including widespread habitat loss due to coastal development, unsustainable levels of fishing, and pollution,” the study said.

Coral loss in the South China Sea — where reefs stretch across some 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 square miles) — was compounded by poor governance stemming from competing territorial claims.

Some marine parks aimed at conservation had been established but study author Terry Hughes said they were too small and too far apart to arrest the decline in coral cover.

“The window of opportunity to recover the reefs of the South China Sea is closing rapidly, given the state of degradation revealed in this study,” he said.

The South China Sea is strategically significant, home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and believed to be rich in resources.

China claims most of the sea including waters close to the shores of its neighbours. Rival claimants include Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and tensions over the issue have flared in recent years.

From The Raw Story: