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Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”

By Joe Romm  

"Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”"


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But in the land of make-believe, Watts and Goddard say: “Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.”

One of the country’s leading experts on the Arctic projects it will be essentially ice-free (in the fall) decades ahead of the projections of the climate models used in the 2007 IPCC report.  And that has quite dire implications and consequences for the likely future rate of climate change compared to those models.

The following chart is from Wieslaw Maslowski of the Naval Postgraduate School in a presentation at the March State of the Arctic Meeting (click to enlarge):

Maslowski SMALL

*This projection is based on a combined model and data trendline focusing on ice volume.  By “ice-free,” Maslowski tells me he means more than an 80% drop from the 1979-2000 summer volume baseline of ~200,00 km^3.  Some sea ice above Greenland and Eastern Canada may survive into the 2020s (as the inset in his figure shows), but the Arctic as it has been for apparently a million years will be gone.

Note also that the Polar Science Center asserts “September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.” If that figure is correct, then we may be on one of Maslowski’s faster-declining trend lines.  And yes, after apparently hundreds of thousands of years, this relatively rapid decline can, I think, safely be called a “death spiral” (especially if the Polar Science Center’s work discussed below is correct).

Long-time readers may remember that Maslowski’s work on ice volume is one of the main reasons I entered into my big $1000 bet with James Annan, William Connolley, and Brian Schmidt (see “Another big climate bet “” Of Ice and Men“). I just interviewed Maslowski by email and asked him about his work (since it is often misquoted) — and my bet. But first let’s go back to what he said four years ago.

In a 2006 American Meteorological Society seminar I attended, Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Oceanography Department at the Naval Postgraduate School reported that models suggest the Arctic lost one third of its ice volume from 1997 to 2002. He then made an alarming forecast:

If this trend persists for another 10 years-and it has through 2005-we could be ice free in the summer.”

And that was in 2006, so he was talking about the possibility of being ice free in 2016 — before the big drop in sea ice area in 2007.

The scientific literature and actual observations continue to vindicate Maslowski’s projection (see New study supports finding that “the amount of [multi-year] sea ice in the northern hemisphere was the lowest on record in 2009″³).

Trends in multi-year ice “” ice volume “” are what matter most in terms of the long-term survivability of the Arctic ice in the summer.  In that sense, we now know that the Arctic ice did not “recover” in 2008 and 2009 (see “Arctic poised to see record low sea ice volume this year“).

NSIDC ice age 3-10

As you can see, even when the news stories were about the Arctic ice supposedly “recovering” (in area) in 2008 and 2009, it was still sharply shedding the thickest ice “” ice older than 2 years.

We appear to have been breaking volume records over the past several months according to the Polar Science Center (click to enlarge):

Note:  “Anomalies for each day are calculated relative to the average over the 1979 -2009 period for that day to remove the annual cycle.” The sharp drop at the end is not to a record low absolute level of ice volume, but to apparent record low for the month.

Now that looks like a death spiral, no?

PSC asserts that based on its PIOMAS model, “Total Arctic Ice Volume for March 2010 is 20,300 km^3, the lowest over the 1979-2009 period and 38% below the 1979 maximum. September Ice Volume was lowest in 2009 at 5,800 km^3 or 67% below its 1979 maximum.”

I emailed Dr. J. Zhang, who led the PSC team that developed this validated ice volume model, about his confidence in those assertions, and he said:

Our confidence with March 2010 is higher than that with 9/2009. Arctic was much warmer in 2-4/2010 than 2-4/2009 according to NCEP/NCAR surface air temperature used for model forcing, leading to a lower ice volume (http://psc.apl.washington.edu/zhang/IDAO/seasonal_outlook.html).   September ice volume is generally tough to estimate with high confidence.

Everywhere you look, records are being set.  Here is current data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on observed sea ice extent (click to enlarge):

AMSR-E Sea Ice Extent

Actually there remains one place where nothing whatsoever interesting is happening in the Arctic at all.

In a wondrous land of make-believe, called WattsUpWithThat, two people scour the world for out-of-date databases that they can misinterpret and mislead their readers with.  I had noted back on May 24 that As Arctic sea ice shrinks faster than 2007, NSIDC director Serreze says, “I think it’s quite possible” we could “break another record this year” — while Watts and Goddard seem in denial: “We are still about six weeks away from anything interesting happening in the Arctic.”

Goddard has been posting every few days trying to reassure WattsUp readers that nothing interesting is happening in the place on the Earth seeing the fastest warming thanks to human emissions.

In a May 31st post “WUWT Arctic Sea Ice News #7” — #7! (and yes he just posted #8) — Goddard opens by asserting:

The death spiral continues, with Arctic ice extent and thickness nearly identical to what it was 10 years ago.

Seriously.  Not only is nothing interesting in the Arctic happening now, but nothing interesting has been happening for 10 full years!

And then on June 2, Watts published another Goddard work of short fiction, “The undeath spiral,” which opens:

Over the last three years, Arctic Ice has gained significantly in thickness.

It is the Bizarro World of Htrae at Watts, which is ruled by the Bizarro Code:  “Us do opposite of all Earthly things!”  Goddard ends with a link to CP:

Conclusion : Should we expect a nice recovery this summer due to the thicker ice? You bet ya. Even if all the ice less than 2.5 metres thick melted this summer, we would still see a record high minimum in the DMI charts.

Mark Serreze has a different take for 2010:

“Could we break another record this year? I think it’s quite possible,” said Mark Serreze of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo.

Bookmark this post for reference in September.

Now I have said many times that I do not necessarily agree with every single word of all the people I repost, but by letting Goddard post this fantasy over and over and over again, one must assume that this is what Watts also believes:  Nothing is happening in the Arctic.

Back in the real world of cryosphere scientists, Maslowski explains on the final page of his presentation:

  1. The rate of decrease of sea ice thickness and volume appears to be much greater than that of sea ice extent
  2. Oceanic heat has contributed critical preconditioning to sea ice melt in the western Arctic since the mid-1990s
  3. Near ice-free summer Arctic might become a reality much sooner than GCMs predict

And while some in the anti-science crowd have been trying to move the goalposts as to what climate scientists have been predicting — by, ironically enough, by quoting Maslowski’s projections — here is what the climate models or GCMs in fact have been projecting (from Wikipedia):

Projections of sea ice loss suggest that the Arctic ocean will likely be free of summer sea ice sometime between 2060 and 2080.[2]

… Computer models predict that the sea ice area will continue to shrink in the future, although recent work has called into question their ability to accurately predict sea ice changes.[3] Current climate models frequently underestimate the rate of shrinkage.[4] In 2007 the IPCC reported that “the projected reduction [in global sea ice cover] is accelerated in the Arctic, where some models project summer sea ice cover to disappear entirely in the high-emission A2 scenario in the latter part of the 21st century.”³ [5] There is currently no scientific evidence that a seasonally ice-free Arctic Ocean existed anytime in the last 700,000 years, although there were periods when the Arctic was warmer than it is today.[6][7]

So if Maslowski is anywhere near correct, then this key aspect of human-caused climate change will have happened staggeringly faster than the IPCC and its models had projected — with quite dire implications and consequences for the likely future rat e of climate change compared to the models.

As a 2008 study led by David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) concluded (see “Tundra 4: Permafrost loss linked to Arctic sea ice loss“):

We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland”¦.

In other words, if it continues, the recent trend in sea ice loss may triple overall Arctic warming, causing large emissions in carbon dioxide and methane from the tundra this century (for a review of recent literature on the tundra, see “Science stunner: Vast East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane stores destabilizing and venting“).  Indeed, Lawrence himself said, “Our study suggests that, if sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate.”

As for my bet, based on Maslowski’s email, I think he would have preferred if I had bet on the volume, not the area.  Here are the terms I agreed to:

At no time between now and the end of the year 2020 will the minimum total Arctic Sea ice extent be less than 10% of the 1979-2000 average minimum annual Arctic Sea ice extent, as measured by NSIDC data or any other measurement mutually agreed-upon; provided, however, that if two or more volcanic eruptions with the energy level equal to or greater than the 1991 Mount Pinatubo shall occur between now and the end of 2020, then all bets are voided.

I still like my chances very much, but I suppose it is possible that slightly more ice than that 10% could still be clinging to life above Canada and Greenland through 2020.  Maybe not, though.  As NCAR said of the 2008 study:

The decade during which a rapid sea-ice loss event occurs could see autumn temperatures warm by as much as 5 degrees C (9 degrees F) along the Arctic coasts of Russia, Alaska, and Canada.

In short, it is going to get hot up North before it gets even hotter:

The time to act was a long time ago, but now is far, far better than later, just to give the next generation some chance.

The undeath spiral


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75 Responses to Arctic death spiral: Naval Postgrad School’s Maslowski “projects ice-free* fall by 2016 (+/- 3 yrs)”

  1. mike roddy says:

    I’d be interested in seeing equations correlating climate sensitivity with reduced arctic ice albedo.

    As for Watts, I think the poor man has been losing it lately. Anthony, if you’re reading this I would like to pass on the same advice I gave to your friend Steve McIntyre: Move to an island such as Fiji or Sri Lanka, and enjoy a relaxed retirement under an assumed name. The weather is balmy there, coastlines will be secure for a while, and the cost of living is low. Many people speak English on both islands.

    Only then could you and Steve escape the profound humiliation that you must have been experiencing as your work has been subjected to serious scientific analysis, such as that performed by NAS.

  2. Dan B says:

    Even if we don’t develop an ice free Arctic Ocean by 2020 the location of open low albedo ocean adjacent to the largest area of permafrost is unnerving. The entire Artic region seems to be in a death spiral. It’s like wondering if the asteroid will strike the planet in 2014 or 2020.

    The minor increase in temperature we’ve experienced seems to have contributed to the devastating heat wave in India and Pakistan, extreme rainfall and floods, droughts that have reduced worldwide grain production. These on top of an anemic economy seem to be sweeping our future into an ever widening whirlpool.

  3. dhogaza says:

    Good summary. Some brave souls have tried to put Goddard straight over there in his “undeath spiral” thread. Read the June 6, 2010 at 1:49 am post by Tom P which explains how to do the pixel processing of PIPS maps properly (Tom P’s effort has a correlation coefficient of 0.99999 with the published PIPS work, while Goddard’s “ice is thickening!” has a negative correlation of -0.6!).

    The following poster, John Chapman, points out that Goddard’s plots “bear no resemblance to the maps upon which they’re based” (not surprising with a negative correlation of -0.6).

    (I’m not linking to WUWT on principle).

    Ah, well, this is right up there with his famous “co2 snowstorms in antarctica” and “venus is hot due to atmospheric pressure” declarations.

    Buffoons …

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Look at those trends. Will we have any winter sea ice at the end of the century? Clearly summer ice will be a matter of weather in the very near future, add that to the movement in the freeze up and melt onsets (except for the current year) and we have a scary picture.

    Looking at the midwinter volume trend lines; no winter ice could be alot sooner than even I expect.

    [JR: Remember, those are anomaly trends. But once it gets near ice free in September, it'll come sooner and last longer.]

  5. h20_nh says:

    We hear a lot about tipping point. Can we call this the first tipping point we have crossed? Arctic sea ice loss appears irreversible and we dont know the true consequences (except that big oil will want to drill in the arctic). Scary stuff.

  6. Dan B says:


    “we dont know the true consequences” There are a few things we can say with some certainty. The Arctic will become warmer because of a massive change in albedo. Permafrost regions will be warmed and increase the release of methane into the atmosphere. This will speed the warming of the Arctic. It’s the brick on the accelerator.

    The “true consequences” are fairly predictable if we simply say that the loss of Arctic summer ice will speed up warming. How fast and how much we can’t yet say. “Scary stuff.” it is indeed. It feels like being stuck in a car on a dangerous road with drunk teenagers at the wheel.

  7. Dan B says:

    There’s a video of Arctic researchers lighting methane trapped under the ice in a new permafrost melt pond. The photo on the upper right of Climate Place’s homepage (climateplace.org) shows the flame. The video is available on the Slides tab – you have to download then scroll down to find it. One of the guys almost burns himself by enlarging the hole they’ve poked in the ice.

    Imagine this happening over millions of square miles!

  8. Ron Broberg says:

    While they occasionally bounce between mutually exclusive theories on a near daily basis over there, Goddard recently projected an ice free Arctic summer in 2065 based on the 30 year trend. I don’t think he realized that was pretty much spot on (although slightly earlier) with the IPCC projections but that made it no less amusing.


  9. Mark Shapiro says:

    The burners obfuscate the issue by cherry picking and by looking at total sea ice, which includes the SH icing up faster than the NH ice melts, so that the total global sea ice is a little above average now. They ignore the different dynamics of the SH.

    But I’ve already put my marker down for new record lows on NH sea ice on all the datasets.


    Can we please start moving to clean energy now?

  10. It seems that the blogosphere and the MS media is giving far too much attention to the WUWT buffoons. Perhaps it’s time for those of us who write/broadcast on climate issues to just set aside a separate page for discounting the laughable nonsense that it spews out.

    A simple logo directing readers there with a short note indicating that the site in question is tired of spending time and energy illustrating how patently ignorant the stream of junk science emanating from that site is.

    It’s really nothing more than a world view reinforcer for members of Anthony Leiserowitz and Ed Maibach’s “6th America”. The “dismissives” who are even more certain they are right when shown science that indicates otherwise.

  11. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe – two important numbers from your sources don’t mesh.

    In Maslowski’s Arctic Sea Ice Volume trends graph, he notes the “Lowest Winter (Feb-Mar) Arctic sea ice volume in 2009: 11,900 km3!! (from Kwok, personal comm.)”

    Later, after showing the PSC arctic volume graph, you quote PSC: “PSC asserts that based on its PIOMAS model, “Total Arctic Ice Volume for March 2010 is 20,300 km^3, the lowest over the 1979-2009 period and 38% below the 1979 maximum.”

    I can’t reconcile the Maslowski’s 11,900 km^3 in 2009 with PSC’s 20,300 km^3 in 2010. I lean toward PSC’s 20,300 km^3. 11,900 can’t be the lowest max, because the average summer melt is about 14,000 km^3.

    [JR: Good point. Let me get to the bottom of this.]

  12. jyyh says:

    Dr. Robert Grumbine has done a logistic fit on arctic ice cover with Dr. Xingren Wu and gets a bit different answer:
    Noting that many natural phenomena follow logistic distribution I think this is quite plausible, though he is not very specific on his blogpost. And before someone says Antarctic ice is growing, one reason for Arctic amplification is the axial tilt in relation to aphelion of the earth, which produces longer summers to northern hemisphere.

  13. dhogaza says:

    While they occasionally bounce between mutually exclusive theories on a near daily basis over there, Goddard recently projected an ice free Arctic summer in 2065 based on the 30 year trend. I don’t think he realized that was pretty much spot on (although slightly earlier) with the IPCC projections but that made it no less amusing.

    And Watts signed on.

    My hypothesis (posted elsewhere shortly after) is that when people began to point out that “2065″ is more “warmist” than “2050- 2100″, they decided to put out a flurry of idiot-posts claiming that volume etc is actually increasing and that arctic ice recovery is underway.

    Totally contradicting their earlier post.

    ‘Tis humorous, all this.

  14. Deep Climate says:

    Barely a month ago, the National Post’s Lawrence Solomon was touting a supposed “record” sea ice extent in April (believe it or not)!

    [Start] with a dissection of Solomon’s recent misrepresentation of the latest Arctic sea ice extent data, said to “augur” coming “global cooling”. Incredibly, Solomon even claims that the latest data “acts to disprove” models projecting continued decline of Arctic sea ice. That assertion flies in the face of the relentless downward trend in sea ice extent that has continued unabated, or possibly even accelerated, since the release of the last IPCC report in early 2007.


    Solomon even posted the “live” version of the JAXA IARC sea ice chart; anyone, going back to his article today can see 2010 now below all previous years. You can’t make this stuff up.

  15. prokaryote says:

    As The Earth Heats Up, Soil Releases More Carbon Dioxide

    Twenty years of field studies reveal that as the Earth has gotten warmer, plants and microbes in the soil have given off more carbon dioxide. So-called soil respiration has increased about one-tenth of 1 percent per year since 1989, according to an analysis of past studies in the March 24 issue of Nature.

    Collection of videos about soil carbon sequestration.

  16. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    I wonder if anyone has the maths, the time and the inclination to work out the ratio of albido lost with an average square mile of arctic ice cap to that of the loss of an average square mile of snow and ice from the northern Andes ?

    Plainly, while the Andes straddle the equator, reflecting 90 degree sunshine (i.e. vertical) twice per year during the northern hemisphere’s spring and autumn, the arctic enjoys only a brief summer with the pole tilted toward the sun by a relatively small degree, even at midsummer. The fact that the main ice loss is not till September further lowers the relative importance of its lost albido.

    If anyone can assemble a serious assessment of that ratio, it would be very good to see it posted as an innovative extension of the albido loss issue.

    This is not in any way to play down the significance of Arctic albido loss, particularly its vast area, but rather to illustrate the fact of the scientific community’s sad failure to provide the public with a coherent overview of the full range and potentials of the diverse interactive feedbacks. For campaigners to now continue a debate with corrupt denialism over GW’s reality, hazard, inevitability, etc, would be to continue to accept the fetters of their agenda : we need instead to re-orientate the debate by propagating knowledge of the threat multiplier that the feedbacks represent, as Joe has admirably persisted with here on Climate Progress.

    Yet to speak effectively of a greater threat demands the provision of a coherent new strategy for its mitigation (messaging 101); plainly, even if Copenhagen’s best hopes had been realized, the resulting treaty would not have been remotely near to offering a commensurate response to the hazard of interactive feedbacks.

    As yet, public discussion of such a new strategy for sufficient mitigation is almost entirely lacking. Instead, renewables seem to have become many campaigners’ security blanket – when things look bad, just urge more action on solar panel installation, wind turbines, et al –
    As if non-fossil energy supply does anything at all, in the absence of a Climate Treaty, to prevent fossil fuels being bought and burnt elsewhere.
    And as if, once GHG outputs at last begin declining toward zero under a Climate Treaty, that would do anything at all significant to reduce the airborne CO2e ppmv that is the prime accelerant of the interactive feedbacks.

    So when is that discussion of a sufficicient mitigation strategy going to begin – and more to the point, if not here on Climate Progress, then where ?
    In short, as a placard in Prague’s Wenceslas Square once put it:
    “If not us then who ? – If not now then when ?”



  17. prokaryote says:

    We likewise see faster methane release – sooner than our expectation.

    Researchers led by the University of Florida’s Ted Schuur last year calculated that the top 3 meters (10 feet) of permafrost alone contain more carbon than is currently in the atmosphere.

    “It’s safe to say the surface permafrost, 3 to 5 meters, is at risk of thawing in the next 100 years,” Schuur said by telephone from an Alaska research site. “It can’t stay intact.”

    Reporting to the European Geophysical Union last year, the scientists, affiliated with the University of Alaska and the Russian Academy of Sciences, cited “extreme” saturation of methane in surface waters and in the air above. They said up to 10 percent of the undersea permafrost area had melted, and it was “highly possible” that this would open the way to abrupt release of an estimated 50 billion tons of methane.

    Depending on how much dissolved in the sea, that might multiply methane in the atmosphere several-fold, boosting temperatures enough to cause “catastrophic greenhouse warming,” as the Russians called it. It would be self-perpetuating, melting more permafrost, emitting more methane.

    Some might label that alarmism. And Stockholm University researcher Orjan Gustafsson, a partner in the Russians’ field work, acknowledged that “the scientific community is quite split on how fast the permafrost can thaw.”

    “If we lost just 1 percent of the carbon in permafrost today, we’d be close to a year’s contributions from industrial sources,” he said. “I don’t think policymakers have woken up to this. It’s not in their risk assessments.”

    How likely is a major release?

    “I don’t think it’s a case of likelihood,” he said. “I think we are playing with fire.”

  18. prokaryote says:

    Has anyone here a link to the study examining russian methane seepage from lakes and peatbogs, from ~2009?

    It reports on the decomposing processes which are an amplifying feedback from low albido/melt, aswell as on the effects on local temperature and precipitation.

  19. villabolo says:

    Has anyone studied:

    1. How quickly and by how much the temperature will rise in the open(ing) Arctic Ocean?->

    2. How quickly that will accelerate permafrost thaw?->

    3. To what extent the increase in soil temperature will add to the metabolism of the micro-organisms that decompose the biomass and by how much that will increase the production of methane?

  20. prokaryote says:

    Leif, indeed.

    Reminds me of this

    With Artificial Photosynthesis, A Bottle of Water Could Produce Enough Energy To Power A House

    One of the interesting side effects of last year’s stimulus bill was $400 million in funding for ARPA-E, the civilian, energy-focused cousin of DARPA. And in this week’s first ever ARPA-E conference, MIT chemist Dan Nocera showed how well he put that stimulus money to use by highlighting his new photosynthetic process. Using a special catalyst, the process splits water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel efficiently enough to power a home using only sunlight and a bottle of water.

    Like organic photosynthesis, Nocera’s reaction uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and energy. However, whereas plants create energy in the form of sugars, this process creates energy in the form of free hydrogen. That hydrogen can either be recombined with the oxygen in a fuel cell to generate electricity, or converted into a liquid fuel.


  21. prokaryote says:

    18#, ” 3. To what extent the increase in soil temperature will add to the metabolism of the micro-organisms that decompose the biomass and by how much that will increase the production of methane?”

    I posted this above (but in moderation):

    Researchers led by the University of Florida’s Ted Schuur last year calculated that the top 3 meters (10 feet) of permafrost alone contain more carbon than is currently in the atmosphere.

    “It’s safe to say the surface permafrost, 3 to 5 meters, is at risk of thawing in the next 100 years,” Schuur said by telephone from an Alaska research site. “It can’t stay intact.”

    As all the models underestimated the system processes, we can assume that the permafrost thaw will turn out to be faster than expected, too.

    The time for bold action has come …

  22. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    “The time for bold action has come … ”


    What do you suggest ?



  23. prokaryote says:

    Acknowledge the threat.
    Out-phasing of greenhouse gases must be adjusted to current findings and development (acceleration).
    Mass scale (industrial) biochar production and land fill worldwide – and here we need the 3rd World cooperation. Our survival depends on this.
    Directive Order Agenda under which every task must be weighten on it’s impact on the environment – sustainability goals must be met.

    We need new technologies to protect food and water supplies. Such as underground facilities for harvesting and growing animals like fish.

    I could go on …
    The goal is to throttle down the climate change progress and to adapt.

  24. prokaryote says:

    jyyh, the study described the decompose process (i think from wetlands, lakes and peat bogs)and stating that it has an effect on local temperature and amplifying the melt considerably.

  25. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Acknowledging the threat is plainly the starting point.

    Perhaps we’re agreed that at the threat’s core is the fact that the feedbacks are accelerating now, that their interactions are intensifying, and that they’re progressing toward a rate of CO2e output that would rob our GHG controls of relevance ?

    Neither ending GHG outputs – by say 2035 ? – nor the largest extent of biochar feedstock viable without cutting into farmland – can achieve global cooling much before 2065, owing to the 30 to 40 year timelag on changes in airborne GHGs’ ppmv taking effect on global temperature. And that is probably several decades too late to prevent the feedbacks becoming essentially self-fuelling.

    You remark our need for 3rd World co-operation – yet in reality it is we who need to start co-operating with them. Without a sea change in western diplomacy there will be no treaty to end global GHG outputs and facilitate the sustainable operation of a global biochar initiative. (The latter is already being touted as a great opportunity for unilateral offset profiteering).

    To be blunt, without America acknowledging its liability for its historic emissions, (around a third of airborne GHG stocks), and accepting that the price of agreement on addressing current emissions is convergence towards international per capita parity of shares in the declining global emissions budgets, negotiations will remain deadlocked. As even the UNFCCC administration has observed:– “Contraction & Convergence . . . is inevitably required.”

    Given that the approaches you suggest can do nothing to ‘throttle back’ climate change till at least 2065, and that there is no feasible adaption to an increasingly destabilized climate, I’d suggest a different and rather more specific goal.

    We need to cleanse the atmosphere as rapidly as possible by means of carbon recovery, while also protecting the victims of our industrialized way of life, and to preclude the feedbacks from further acceleration while we are doing so by means of moderating global temperature.

    Seeing that this is not a campaign platform that meshes easily with progressives’ received ideas, if there is any other approach that actually addresses the threat then I’d like to hear it.



  26. Dan B says:

    We’re all feeling that the end has been announced. Almost all posted comments seem to acknowledge it.

    What’s needed is a way for us who feel despondent to connect in person / offline.

  27. prokaryote says:

    However it is related to this find and another positive feedback.
    “We find that simulated western Arctic land warming trends during rapid sea ice loss are 3.5 times greater than secular 21st century climate-change trends. The accelerated warming signal penetrates up to 1500 km inland….

    In other words, if it continues, the recent trend in sea ice loss may triple overall Arctic warming”

    The permafrost thaw or peatland carbon sink and the risc is about the start or acceleration of decomposing process – where heat (from microbial-organism activities) is generated and this penetrates other areas. Once decompose starts, the process amplifies – accelerates further the local temperature creating a feedback which results in more methane/Co2 release in short time. I think the study i mentioned found 6-9 degrees temperature anomaly in affected areas.


  28. prokaryote says:

    Methane May Be Building Under Antarctic Ice
    Microbes living under ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could be churning out large quantities of the greenhouse gas methane, a new study suggests.

    In recent years scientists have learned that liquid water lurks under much of Antarctica’s massive ice sheet, and so, they say, the potential microbial habitat in this watery world is huge. If the methane produced by the bacteria gets trapped beneath the ice and builds up over long periods of time — a possibility that is far from certain — it could mean that as ice sheets melt under warmer temperatures, they would release large amounts of heat-trapping methane gas.

    Jemma Wadham, a geochemist at the University of Bristol in England, described the little-known role of methane-making microbes, called methanogens, below ice sheets on March 15 at an American Geophysical Union conference on Antarctic lakes.

    Her team took samples from one site in Antarctica, the Lower Wright glacier, and one in Greenland, the Russell glacier. Trapped within the ice were high concentrations of methane, Wadham said, as well as methanogens themselves — up to 10 million cells per gram in the Antarctic sample and 100,000 cells per gram in Greenland. That’s comparable to the concentration of methanogens found in deep-ocean sediments, she said. The species of microbes were also similar to those found in other polar environments, such as Arctic peat or tundra.

    Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/03/antarctic-methane-lakes/#ixzz0q9XhICbu

  29. toby says:

    Watts & Co are on a hook – since 2007 they have been pushing the meme “Arctic Ice returning to normal!”. Now the indicator has turned against them and they are floundering. Willis Eschenbach is even pushing the old US Navy IPS 2.0 model as a tool.

  30. Daniel says:

    Procaryote #21, do you have anything evaluating possiblities of “Mass scale (industrial) biochar production and land fill worldwide” ??

    Sounds terrific to me (low tech Carbon sequestration, soil remediation, increased agricultural yields, water retention, plus benefits on biodiversity, health effects of cooking stove, etc)


    Globally, you need to grow all the plants you later turn into biochar, right? Plus you need to offset all the CO2/CH4 produced by the pyrolisis of the plants into biochar?

    Has this been evaluated in terms of net carbon sequestration process?


  31. prokaryote says:

    Daniel, Dr James Lovelock states:

    I said in my recent book that perhaps the only tool we had to bring carbon dioxide back to pre-industrial levels was to let the biosphere pump it from the air for us. It currently removes 550bn tons a year, about 18 times more than we emit, but 99.9% of the carbon captured this way goes back to the air as CO2 when things are eaten.

    What we have to do is turn a portion of all the waste of agriculture into charcoal and bury it. Consider grain like wheat or rice; most of the plant mass is in the stems, stalks and roots and we only eat the seeds. So instead of just ploughing in the stalks or turning them into cardboard, make it into charcoal and bury it or sink it in the ocean. We don’t need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon. Charcoal making might even work instead of landfill for waste paper and plastic.

    Incidentally, in making charcoal this way, there is a by-product of biofuel that the farmer can sell. If we are to make this idea work it is vital that it pays for itself and requires no subsidy. Subsidies almost always breed scams and this is true of most forms of renewable energy now proposed and used. No one would invest in plantations to make charcoal without a subsidy, but if we can show the farmers they can turn their waste to profit they will do it freely and help us and Gaia too.

  32. prokaryote says:

    Biochar: Examination of an Emerging Concept to Mitigate Climate Change

    This report briefly describes biochar, its potential advantages and disadvantages, legislative support, and research and development activities underway in the United States and abroad.

    Studies suggest that crop yields can increase as a result of applying biochar as a soil amendment. Some contend that biochar has value as an immediate climate change mitigation strategy. Scientific experiments suggest that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced significantly with biochar application to crop fields.

    Past Congresses have proposed numerous climate change bills, many of which do not directly address mitigation and adaptation technologies at developmental stages like biochar. However, biochar may equip agricultural and forestry producers with numerous revenue-generating products: carbon offsets, soil amendments, and energy. A clearly defined policy medium that may support this technology (e.g., soil conservation, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction) has yet to emerge.

  33. prokaryote says:

    Early research adopting a 50-year time timeframe has corroborated the potential of biochar to scale up globally to deliver several billion tons of CO2e mitigation.

  34. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    I understood the top graph to absolute ice volume, the middle graph volume anomalies and the bottom ice area. The Arcus report you linked also has ice thickness trends that do not look good for summer ice lasting more than a few years more.

    I realise eyeballing graphs is not good science, but eyeball the trends on maximium ice volumes, still scary. Perhaps someone who can actually do statistics could do a proper maximum ice trend line.

  35. prokaryote says:

    Daniel: “Globally, you need to grow all the plants you later turn into biochar, right?”

    You can use all kinds of biomass(waste).

    For example in india farmers burn their fields, instead of this they need to learn production of biochar (no rocket science).

  36. Giove says:

    Very interesting, and worrying read. I would like to ask the opinion of the climate scientists on the likely consequences of an ice-free arctic in fall.. what I can think of is the following:

    1- is the breakup of the arctic polar vortex going to become commonplace? That would mean regular freezing winters in northern hemisphere with exceptional snowfalls and floods? All while the arctic is sharply warming up with the gulf stream current deviating slightly north to melt Greenland very very very quickly (it will not be steered east by constant winds).

    2- rapid melt of Greenland would mean that before or later one of its subglacial lakes could break up and start flowing in the ocean. If this happens, it is likely to happen in fall, when water levels are highest, i think. 2 possible consequences: 1) ocean surface will suddently become a lot less salty, possibly provoking a very quick refreezing during the following winter. 2) greenland (which is already popping up at a rate of 1 inch per year, as it is becoming a lot lighter since the last glaciation, will increase its vertical speed … and the local stresses on the crust can become locally so high to open new faults, reactivate volcanos under the ice cap and provoke eartquakes. Could be interesting.

    3- rapid heating of the shallow arctic sea north of Siberia could destabilize the huge deposits of methane hydrates there, possibly provoking a chain reaction, and have cubic miles of them “blowing up” in the atmosphere in a matter of years. Already last winter a paper evaluated that area emitting more methane than all the rest of oceans.

    4- the shift in land weather due to the breakup of the polar vortex .. what consequences can it have on land permafrost? is it going to be “bubble weather” in siberia, with heatwaves followed by cold snaps? what consequences would that have on permafrost?

    How wrong am I? Please tell me that I am wrong!

    2- rapid melt of Greenland would mean that before or later one of its subglacial lakes could break up and start flowing in the ocean. If this happens, it is likely to happen in fall, when water levels are highest, i think. 2 possible consequences:

  37. J Bowers says:

    @3 doghaza

    Tom P deserves a medal, especially for pointing out McIntyre’s flawed submission to the UK Commons Committee regarding the CRU emails over at CA. Top man.

  38. J Bowers says:

    Whoops… Dhogaza (apologies).

  39. Raul says:

    Due to the work involved in denying the climate (persistent weather)
    access to the indoor home environment, many would feel first choice
    that it is to deny that they won’t be able to continue to deny weather
    access to the home environment.
    Further, some feel it imperative to deny even such talk.
    Don’t see how we will be able to work so hard…
    Some say that when the earth started to form an oxygen rich atmosphere
    it was microbial action that accomplished such.

  40. dhogaza says:

    Willis Eschenbach is even pushing the old US Navy IPS 2.0 model as a tool.

    That’s actually Steven “CO2 blizzard in antarctica” Goddard. Willis isn’t *quite* as out there as Goddard. In fact, Willis has just made two posts declaring that the Mauna Loa CO2 data is accurate, and the increase due to the burning of fossil fuels. Not everyone is pleased.

    Tom P deserves a medal…

    I don’t understand the source of his patience, which appears infinite.

    I actually hadn’t read anything over there in months, but couldn’t resist after hearing about Goddard’s recent posts. Goddard’s entertaining, in an “always wrong and never admits it” kind of way …

  41. David K says:

    How is it that they (Watts et al.) still get away with pushing falsehoods? I mean, every single time they are found to have played games with the information to get their desired result.

    And now they are invoking minors in their deceit: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474978283332

    Thanks for all your hard work trying to keep the truth from being overwhelmed by the denialist machine.

  42. Mike #22 says:

    There is a long list of things we need to be doing, that we can do, that we will do. Reforestation for CO2 removal, economy wide energy efficiency, transportation electrification, solar baseload and super grids. Instead of trying to ramp up a lot of biochar, it might be a cheaper to rail the timber out into a desert and make some piles (then build solar biochar facilities–liquid fuels bonus).

    But it may be time to buy some insurance in the event we don’t move fast enough. The methane thing is scary. Just one or two planes with sulfur burning equipment, one or two boats fixed up to make salt spray. Test the technology. Figure out how to cool the arctic. Start the treaty process.

    I am no fan of geoengineering, but if comes down to a choice between crossing the point of no return on methane and permafrost carbon, and adding a few percent to the world’s SO2 emissions, we need to be prepared.

  43. prokaryote says:

    Defending Boston from the sea
    A massive ocean barrier. Hidden Holding tanks. With Sea Levels Rising, Urban Planners Start Envisioning a More Waterproof City

  44. P. G. Dudda says:

    What does the current apparent breakup of the ice north of Greenland and Ellesmere portend for this year’s melt season? I imagine it certainly bodes ill for any possible future “recovery”, since this is traditionally where the thickest and oldest Arctic ice reside.

  45. Mike (another one) says:

    Giove #40

    Interesting questions. I’m just a scientific layman but I’ll offer a couple of comments.

    Currently I’m not aware of reliable predictions that the polar vortex will trend negative. Certainly there doesn’t seem to be any trend over the last few decades. You can see this for yourself if you go back a few posts to where NASA GISS is reporting a 12 month temperature record. Here you’ll find a link to a new draft NASA paper. This contains a figure showing the polar vortex/ AO since 1950 (page 22).

    As for the release of undersea methane hydrates, AFAIK we lack enough long term observational data to really pin down how this release is changing and currently methane release from the oceans is much smaller than from land.

    Prof David Archer has a good post on arctic methane at Real Climate where he suggests a catastrophic release is unlikely in the near future. However given what else is happening up in the arctic it’s of little comfort really.

    [JR: The literature provides little comfort on the methane side, but no one can possibly argue with Archer's central point that CO2 alone will do plenty of devastation.]

  46. Leland Palmer says:

    We need to nationalize the coal fired power plants, and convert them into carbon negative BECCS power plants, that burn biomass and sequester carbon. This would make them carbon negative, and would start to put billions of tons of carbon per year back underground.

    Yes, the environmental effects of putting this much supercritical CO2 underground are somewhat uncertain. Hopefully, most of it could go into fractured basalt formations, for permanent mineral carbonation, forming magnesium, calcium, and iron carbonates.

    We should do all the renewable energy stuff we are doing now, and also seize the coal fired power plants and start putting carbon back underground. All of our other approaches are equivalent to attempting to drain a tub by running water into it more slowly.

    Carbon negative energy schemes drain the tub.

    The costs of doing this have been exaggerated, IMO, mainly because the coal industry does not want to be forced to do this, and because the fossil fuel industries engage in every sort of lying known to man, including financing biased economic studies, with unrealistic assumptions that are guaranteed to make carbon capture and storage seem uneconomic.


    Bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is a greenhouse gas mitigation technology which produces negative carbon emissions by combining biomass use with carbon capture and storage.[1] It was pointed out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a key technology for reaching low carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration targets.[2] The negative emissions that can be produced by BECCS has been estimated by the Royal Society to be equivalent to a 50 to 150 ppm decrease in global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.[3]

    The concept of BECCS is drawn from the integration of biomass processing industries or biomass fuelled power plants with carbon capture and storage. BECCS is a form of bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS). BECS also includes other technologies such as biochar and biomass burial.[1]

    The main appeal of BECCS is in its ability to result in negative emissions of CO2. The capture of carbon dioxide from bioenergy sources effectively removes CO2 from the atmosphere.[4]

    Bio-energy is derived from biomass which is a renewable energy source and serves as a carbon sink during its growth. During industrial processes, the biomass combusted or processed re-releases the CO2 into the atmosphere. The process thus results in a net zero emission of CO2, though this may be positively or negatively altered depending on the carbon emissions associated with biomass growth, transport and processing , see below under environmental considerations.[5] Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology serves to intercept the release of CO2 into the atmosphere and redirect it into geological storage locations.[6] CO2 with a biomass origin is not only released from biomass fuelled power plants, but also during the production of pulp used to make paper and in the production of biofuels such as biogas and bioethanol. The BECCS technology can also be employed on such industrial processes.[7]

    It is argued that through the BECCS technology, carbon dioxide is trapped in geologic formations for very long periods of time, whereas for example a tree only stores its carbon during its lifetime. In its report on the CCS technology, IPCC projects that more than 99% of carbon dioxide which is stored through geologic sequestration is likely to stay in place for more than 1000 years. Compared to other types of carbon sinks such as the ocean, trees and soil, the BECCS technology is likely to provide a better permanence.[8]

    The amount of CO2 that has been released to date is believed to be too much to be able to be absorbed by conventional sinks such as trees and soil in order to reach low emission targets.[9] In addition to the presently accumulated emissions, there will be significant additional emissions during this century, even in the most ambitious low-emission scenarios. BECCS has therefore been suggested as a technology to reverse the emission trend and create a global system of net negative emissions.[2][9][10][11][12] This implies that the emissions would not only be zero, but negative, so that not only the emissions, but the absolute amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would be reduced.

    Yes, the Arctic is in a death spiral. Yes, the Siberian permafrost is melting, and releasing large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Yes, all of these processes are accelerating, just as James Lovelock predicted several years ago.

    The climate is destabilizing.

    What are we going to do about it?

    Seize the coal fired power plants, and start putting billions of tons of carbon per year back underground. Convert them to enhanced efficiency combined cycle power plants, at the same time, and let the increased efficiency pay for the conversion.

    Nothing else will save the Arctic sea ice, IMO. Perhaps no other options are available to keep the whole system from destabilizing.

  47. Leif says:

    Farm waste to biochar could be accomplished with solar energy thus improving reclamation. prokaryote @35.

  48. prokaryote says:

    360 Biochar
    Anderson Cooper – CNN story on Biochar

  49. prokaryote says:

    BEC B-1000 biochar production unit running on Oct 1, 2009 in Golden Colorado.

    Biochar Sugarcane Charcoal India Briquette

  50. NeilT says:

    As a long time reader of Clive Cussler books I’m reminded of a “conversation” in one of his books.

    He says that if a carpet of Algae were covering the sea and blocking oxygen production, doubling in size every day; under the current political leadership it would have to cover 50% of the world seas before real action would be taken.

    Giving the world 1 day to save itself.

    The action in the Arctic is no different. It will completely fall apart and melt before anyone in Politics considers it worthy of action. By then it will be decades too late to fix the problem.

    In fact it’s already decades too late to fix the problem.

    All we can hope is that the rapid disintegration of the Arctic ice over the next year or two will finally wake some from their long snooze and start action which will redress some of the damage done in the last 200 years.

    But I’m not going to hold my breath.

  51. Neven says:

    Joe, if it’s OK with you I’d like to point out that I tentatively have started a small blog that is devoted to the Arctic sea ice. I’m not sure how interesting it will be for me to do or for others to follow, but I’m hoping some of the smarter guys can come over and comment every once in a while, so all interesting news, data and knowledge gather in one place.

    I’ll be sure to refer to articles such as this one.

    The blog is here.

  52. pete best says:

    This being one of the central predictions of AGW makes it seem more alarming due to the fact that the standard models of climate prediciton does not see Arctic summer sea ice disappearing until 2060.


    This article is a must read and if 2015/20 is possible then Arctic heat must be underestimated in the region or something else is missing. These projections must take into account available heat for melting altough very little heat is actually required to melt the Arctic sea ice as the process is inefficient.

    This article is not likely to be right.

  53. dhogaza says:

    I hate to make this the “laugh at WUWT” thread, but, umm, Joe started it!

    stevengoddard says:
    June 7, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I’ve never understood why anyone would hold on to a belief system which requires that they are dishonest with themselves and others.

    Sometimes I almost think Steven Goddard – which appears to be a pseudonym, according to some – is a world-class “Poe mole” who’s totally fooled Watts and writes only to make WUWT look incredibly ridiculous and foolish.

    Almost. I think he’s for real, as amazing as that sounds at times.

  54. Aaron Lewis says:

    Is a “snow cone” the same as the block of ice it was shaved from? No! You can stick an ice pick into a snow cone, you cannot easily stick an ice pick into a block of ice.

    In 1980, we had blocks of hard ice floating in the Arctic Seas summer and winter. Now, during the summer we have “snow cones”. Their bulk albedo is less because of a film of melt water on their surface. Their mechanical strength is different, so they respond to currents and winds differently. Now, the ice is more perforated and permeable allowing water vapor from the sea to raise the water vapor content of the atmosphere. The warmer surface of the ice no longer condenses as much water out of the atmosphere. Now, you can run a Class C ice breaker through the multiyear ice at cruise speed. And, they are no longer secure support for the Arctic marine mammals.

    Sorry, guys, but the hard ice that our fathers knew is gone. What are left are snow cones that you can stick a fork into.

  55. mike roddy says:

    There’s a painless way to capture carbon. Biochar requires taking labor intensive steps, with marginal rewards.

    The best path in my opinion is to allow clearcut primary forest habitat in places like the US, Canada, Sweden, and Australia to regrow. Wood products could be provided by poplar or pine plantations on degraded farmland. We could cut back on use of paper and packaging and wood construction to help enable it.

    Years ago carbon scientists in the US performed a what if exercise- that is, what would happen if we just stopped logging for a year?. CO2 emissions would go down by roughly 600 million tons a year in the US alone, without any active afforestation programs. Opportunities are greater in Canada.

    The timber industry stands in the way in both places. Incredibly, they are worse than the oil companies in many respects.

  56. prokaryote says:

    Lewis Cleverdon, 29# “Seeing that this is not a campaign platform that meshes easily with progressives’ received ideas, if there is any other approach that actually addresses the threat then I’d like to hear it.”

    Leland Palmer notes the BECCS framework and removing carbon will make an abrupt effect. Not just in 2065.

    Further reforstation can also be used to manipulate the carbon cycle – natural carbon sinks. And we can start to reverse the trend of destroying our ecosystems worldwide.

    It is a matter how fast this can be scaled and if there is a will todo so. Rightnow there is no consensus in the political field.

    The 3rd world is required because success depends on it. This is a global problem which requires everyone to solve it. How many farmers has india? There is already migration and biochar and soil habitats have been shown to make a diffrence, even under high environmental preassure.

    Intelligent water use is required for the survival of agriculture and aquaculture throughout the region.

    Fears for crops as shock figures from America show scale of bee catastrophe

    The world may be on the brink of biological disaster after news that a third of US bee colonies did not survive the winter

    US scientists have found 121 different pesticides in samples of bees, wax and pollen, lending credence to the notion that pesticides are a key problem. “We believe that some subtle interactions between nutrition, pesticide exposure and other stressors are converging to kill colonies,” said Jeffery Pettis, of the ARS’s bee research laboratory.

    Biochar reduced artificial fertilizer usage because it acts as one.

  57. prokaryote says:

    Greening the Desert – Revisited

    The impact of the devastation is myriad and far-reaching. Aside from destroying trees, the fires also degraded the soil quality which took 50 years to develop. Much of the nutrient-rich topsoil was burnt away, and, in some areas, the soil was baked into a hard outer crust preventing the infiltration of rainwater and increasing the chances for soil erosion, floods, and mudslides. Additional soil loss is expected, mainly during the first year, until herbaceous cover develops.

    Destruction of the forests also altered the food chain and destroyed the habitat of forest-dwelling wildlife. Nesting and roosting sites, forage and food sources, dens and lairs have all been decimated. While some larger animals managed to escape the fires, most slow-moving animals, reptiles and insects were killed. The habitat must be restored in order to facilitate nature’s healing process.

    3Tourism, the lifeblood of the north, slumped by 25% during the war. JNF forests are a main tourist attraction and boost the local economy with the traffic they bring in. For tourism to thrive, the forests must be restored.

    There is also increased risk of invasive plant species overtaking areas, and the possible depletion of the seed bank and regeneration potential within the area.

    JNF’s Forest Department, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Ministry of Environmental Defense, and the Ministry of Agriculture, has turned the disaster into an opportunity and challenge to implement the principles of sustainable development and sustainable forest management as it seeks to re-green the north.

    The multi-faceted plan — defined by ecological, social, economic, and intergenerational principles so as to answer all needs of a society — includes working with natural systems and the enhancement of biological diversity as a central guideline; preserving the size and quality of the current forest inventory for future generations; advancing the economic use of the forest for tourism, wood production, pasture etc; and keeping access open and free for all to use. As the plan proceeds, a research program entitled “Rehabilitation of Mediterranean Ecosystems in Northern Israel Following Missile-Ignited Wildfires” will be conducted and shared with the world.

    8While there is public pressure to replant the burned areas as soon as possible and more than 20,000 volunteers — about 200-400 a day, from students to industry executives alike — have already gotten their hands dirty clearing away the debris, concern for soil loss and a respect for natural regeneration is paramount.

  58. prokaryote says:

    UK government warns; Loss of soil threatens food production

    The soil erosion is reducing the amount of food grown, increasing the risk of flooding and undermining efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

  59. prokaryote says:

    And of course we need to apply new technologies faster aswell and invest more – apollo .

    Obama at MIT: “From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to producing and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. I am convinced of that. And I want America to be that nation…. There are going to be those who make cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary.”

    Apollo set major milestones in human spaceflight. It stands alone in sending manned missions beyond low Earth orbit; Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit another celestial body, while Apollo 17 marked the last moonwalk and the last manned mission beyond low Earth orbit. The program spurred advances in many areas of technology incidental to rocketry and manned spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers. Apollo sparked interest in many fields of engineering and left many physical facilities and machines developed for the program as landmarks. Many objects and artifacts from the program are on display at locations throughout the world

    In 2009, NASA held a symposium on project costs which presented an estimate of the Apollo program costs in 2005 dollars as roughly $170 billion.

  60. From Peru says:


    WUWT claims that sea ice thickness has “recovered”


    even it gives this graph:


    And claim it was done using US Navy PIPS maps:

    What response could be given to WUWT on this?

    [JR: Sodium Pentothol?]

  61. From Peru says:

    Why you inactivated the links?

    Specially the US Navy ones?

    [JR: Force of habit with any WUWT-related post. A few sober WUWT readers explain that Goddard is misreading out-of-date data.]

  62. sailrick says:

    If coal fired plants are converted to biomass, could they then be sources of biochar, and if so, how signifacant could their contribution be? Joe had a post on converting coal plants to biomass, a while back. If I remember right, he estimated that 15% of coal plants could be converted without unduly impacting agricultural land use. He also suggested poplar trees, as a crop for this. Hemp might also be a good choice. One advantage of converting coal plants is that power companies wouldn’t have to face closing them all down.

  63. Nick Downie says:

    Couple of maybe dumb questions. Why do none of the ‘models’ take account of the potential effects of tundra methane release? It’s not as if we haven’t known about this Sword of Damocles for years. And there seems to be a lack of hard data. Why aren’t we monitoring tundra methane release like hawks over a wheat field?

  64. prokaryote says:

    Reforestation & Biochar: Two Geoengineering Methods That Won’t Cause More Harm Than Good

  65. J Bowers says:

    @ 57 Dhogaza (got your name right this time):

    Link (once realclimate’s back up and running)

    The text is:

    Doug Bostrom Says:
    8 July 2008 at 4:09 AM

    Mr. Goddard also tells me in private correspondence he’s afraid to reveal his identity or CV because he’s received “a number of death threats from zealous believers in catastrophic global warming”. Apparently the danger is so great that he cannot even bring his pseudonym to Real Climate to satisfy his sadly appealing need for explanation and information. I suggested he do so several times but the more I repeat myself the more ill-tempered he becomes. Go figure.


  66. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Prokaryote, Neil, Leyland, Mike Roddy & Mike#22

    It is good to see responses to the issue of advancing strategy to reflect our changing circumstances. This is by way of a joint response to bring together aspects covered individually in posts above, and to explore the rationale for strategy renewal around which consensus might be built.

    For brevity’s sake, this is posted in sections, being:

    Time-frame – Carbon Recovery (1 & 2) – Restoring Albido


    The idea that we are already committed to another ~35 years of warming as airborne CO2 ppmv from 1975 to 2010 takes effect, is perhaps the most undervalued aspect of the climate debate. Given that we’ve roughly doubled the anthro CO2 ppmv in that period (from ~50 ppmv to ~110 ppmv) we face far steeper warming over the next 35 years than we’ve seen to date. With diverse interactive feedbacks already accelerating off the 330 ppmv of 1975, the ‘pipeline’ warming is liable to impose catastrophic outcomes if it is not controlled.

    The scientific literature is replete with references to the 30 to 40yr timelag of GHGs’ warming impacts, but nowhere is there an explanation as to why warming from raising CO2 by 1.0 ppmv is timelagged, but cooling by lowering it 1.0 ppmv is not. On the contrary, there is an increasing focus on that same timelag affecting carbon recovery options for global cooling.

    It needs saying that this is no reason to despair – effective mitigation is eminently feasible, but it demands our open-minded commitment to assess the needs and resources dispassionately. Thus I’d respectfully reject Neil’s response at #54:

    “The action in the Arctic is no different. It will completely fall apart and melt before anyone in Politics considers it worthy of action. By then it will be decades too late to fix the problem. – In fact it’s already decades too late to fix the problem. – All we can hope is that the rapid disintegration of the Arctic ice over the next year or two will finally wake some from their long snooze and start action which will redress some of the damage done in the last 200 years.”

    This seems speculative in assuming ongoing political inertia, uninformed of the commensurate mitigation options, and apparently unaware of the existential scale of threat faced. – Either we promptly control the feedbacks, in which case much of the current damage can, over time, be healed; or we fail to prevent the feedbacks from going rogue, and face the destabilization and termination of the climate on which society depends for survival.



  67. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Carbon Recovery (1)

    The accepted figure for recovering enough CO2 to reduce its atmospheric concentration by 1.0 ppmv is 2.1 GTC [Giga-Tonnes of Carbon]. Of the several recovery options discussed, those unable to offer under half of this level of cut per year, i.e. 1.0 GTC, seem to me to lack relevance. Into this class fall first the ‘artificial trees,’ given their intractable problems of collecting, transporting and disposing of >1.0 GT/yr of their resulting carbon compound. Let alone paying for the operation.

    Likewise the fraught and much hyped issue of CCS by using biomass carbon as fuel for power stations. Among various cogent critiques of CCS, the most serious I’ve seen is that to sequester just 1/10th of our CO2 output (or roughly 0.8 GTC) would mean the daily collecting, pressurising, piping, and pumping into selected geologies a volume of liquefied CO2 equal to our entire global daily thruput of oil. Proposing to build the required new global infrastructure on the scale of the global oil industry is a matter of several decades’ investment and, in view of the lack of viable cost recovery, patently a non-starter, even at the level of handling 0.8GTs of carbon per year.

    With regard to the option of recovery via forest regeneration, Mike Roddy at #59 wrote:

    - “The best path in my opinion is to allow clearcut primary forest habitat in places like the US, Canada, Sweden, and Australia to regrow. Wood products could be provided by poplar or pine plantations on degraded farmland. We could cut back on use of paper and packaging and wood construction to help enable it.

    Years ago carbon scientists in the US performed a what if exercise- that is, what would happen if we just stopped logging for a year?. CO2 emissions would go down by roughly 600 million tons a year in the US alone, without any active afforestation programs. Opportunities are greater in Canada.”

    There are various problems with this – such as the urgent need to restore degraded farmlands’ fertility rather than putting commercial monoculture plantations on them. But given that 600 MTs/yr of CO2 output (~0.17 GTC) could be cut just in the US it’s plain that globally the 1.0 GTC threshold could be met by this means. The question is whether this is the best use of all of that massive land area for the purpose of carbon recovery ?

    Natural regeneration for mature self-sustaining forest does not compare well with another relevant sylviculture, namely the ancient tradition of deciduous coppice. Specifically, unlike coppice it doesn’t provide solid, liquid and gaseous fuels, or timber, or much employment; it is far more prone to fire damage by its naturally high deadwood content, and to pest infestation by its common tendency to monoculture; and in most terrains it simply cannot compete with working coppices’ levels of biodiversity (which are the highest of any European ecosystem).

    On the critical issue of carbon recovery, forest regeneration is far slower to get started over an area than is coppice afforestation, and it grows for around 60 years on average before its net carbon intake declines to reflect a steady-state organism with as much dying as growing. From then on its sequestration is mostly limited to soil-building. (Notably the Amazon forest at 60 million years old has an average of about one foot of soil, but temperate deciduous forests do much better).

    By contrast, coppices are harvested mostly in small plots on a cycle of between 7 & 28 years to utilize the fastest growing period and the ecological ‘edge-effect’. As the trees regrow vigorously from the stump after each harvest due to the large extant rootball, their growth rate is around 20% higher than normal forest growth could provide. At harvest, though stick and twig are usually left to rot down (they hold most of the trace elements) logs and branches are removed, thus minimizing fire risk. And their carbon recovery doesn’t tail off at 60: the oldest known UK coppice specimen is a hazel at Ashford in Kent that was planted in Roman times.

    The core question is thus how much clearfell land is best left to regrow – for instance land unsuitable for deciduous species, and corridors between rare forest ecologies – and how much should best be afforested for coppice, for the purpose of maximizing both carbon recovery via biochar and GHG cuts via its co-product fuels output ? The imperative need for maximizing carbon recovery dictates that coppice should certainly predominate wherever it’s viable, but in practice this will be a local or state-level decision.

    Some misconceptions around biochar could be resolved here. For instance, the process of pyrolisis needs a little external heat to start, after which the reaction is ‘exothermic’ – it gives off (a lot of) waste heat. Plans for microwave kilns and solar powered ones are thus off-beam. In a village-scale biochar plant, when restarting say after maintenance, some stored co-product syngas (CO + H2) would be burned under the first loaded retort chamber, after which the issue over heat would be how much of the surplus can be found a worthwhile use.

    Also, the only immediate impacts of biochar is in terms of soil emissions’ mitigation, particularly NOx outputs, alongside displacing artificial fertilizer use by those farms able to afford it. Longer term, its soil moisture moderation (retaining water in droughts and aiding drainage when soused) is clearly of huge benefit in preventing soil degradation and associated emissions. Just in terms of raising yields (reportedly two or three-fold) and sustaining that output, it will help break the cycle of people having to go and find a fresh bit of land by clearing forest.



  68. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The potential of using farm wastes as feedstock for biochar is very great – reportedly as much as 1.0 GTC/yr by 2020, and two or three times that much longer term. Yet care is needed not to rob the soil of the ration of plant fibre it needs, and of some of the trace elements that can be oxidised out during wastes’ poorly controlled pyrolisis.

    There is also a critical need for efficient production both to maximize yields and to avoid significant outputs of particulates, soot, VHCs, CO, CH4 and of course CO2. This address: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQrklYWuwz0&feature=youtube_gdata links to video of the least efficient production I’ve yet seen – While 1.0kg of charcoal from 3.0kgs of cane trash is claimed, the two workers had no means of measuring inputs and the kiln being stuffed with unaccounted fuel around the loaded drums probably meant a conversion rate of around 16%, meaning the two man-day’s output of 50kgs (~1cwt) used over 300kgs of feedstock.

    In this I’d respectfully differ with Lovelock, who wrote:

    “We don’t need plantations or crops planted for biochar, what we need is a charcoal maker on every farm so the farmer can turn his waste into carbon.”

    Globally, relatively few farmers could afford an efficient kiln, let alone a retort that converts up to 33% of the feedstock to charcoal. (Wood is only about 50% carbon). And the farm retort still fails to capture the CO, CH4 and VHCs etc that can be converted to syngas for local uses or for further processing, either to liquid fuels such as methanol and diesel, or to electricity. Yet biomass shouldn’t be transported more than a few miles, owing to its poor energy density (about 55% of that of coal). Supplying a town-scale plant would thus be counter-productive both in carbon and energy terms owing to feedstock haulage from remote areas.

    The necessary model is therefore the village-scale wood refinery, taking in local biomass from trailers &/or ox-wains, and producing decentralised supplies of biochar, fuels, power, potash, creosote, ‘smoke-juice’ (insect repellent), etc. This offers both the most efficient use of the feedstock for carbon recovery, as well as significant supplies of non-fossil fuels. The potential impact on the prosperity of villages of this novel capacity AFAIK has yet to be assessed by a qualified development economist. Suffice to say that the village refinery’s feedstock production-costs will be both minor and stable in comparison to those of conventional refineries.

    In terms of carbon recovery, the use of farm wastes to eventually sequester as much as 3.0 GTC/yr looks feasible, but this is still only around 1.4 ppmv of CO2 being cut per year, probably at least two decades hence. Municipal wastes and commercial forestry wastes might well provide another 1.5 GTC/yr on that timescale, giving 4.5 GTC/yr in total. This is welcome, but in view of the predictably declining natural carbon sinks, that currently remove around 3.0 GTC/yr of our CO2 output, it’s pretty small beer. Suppression of the forest, soil and especially ocean carbon sinks could leave the entire biochar effort removing less than 1.0 ppmv of CO2 per year, out of the 110 ppmv needing recovery.

    Again I must differ with professor Lovelock’s statement: a gigahectare of native afforestation, optimised for carbon recovery via coppice sylviculture, is now essential to advance the rate of progress, not least to minimize the period of airborne CO2’s inflow to the oceans that is diminishing their sink capacity.

    By my own calculation, a gigahectare of coppices growing on steep land, north facing slopes, degraded Amazon cattle ranches, village woodlots, clearfell sites, shelter belts etc, could supply feedstock to efficient wood refineries to yield between 3.0 and 5.4 GTs of biochar per year. In effect, this would be another 1.4 to 2.6 ppmv of CO2 recovered in addition to the ~2.1.ppmv from farm, municipal and commercial forestry wastes, making a cut of 3.5 to 4.7 ppmv/yr in all. Even with the worst case of the sinks’ eventual collapse, we’d still be cutting ~1.1 to 3.3 ppmv per year, making the present task of restoring 280 ppmv potentially feasible within four or five decades of developing full recovery capacity.

    The development period to get coppice forestry established on that scale and then into full annual harvests would at best be a couple of decades, and that would require a crash program with significant global co-operation. Thus while coppice forestry potentially offers a larger carbon recovery capacity than biomass wastes’ usage, it is not likely to be any quicker getting into full operation. Not counting unknown additional anthro carbon outputs as global emissions are declining, this implies a total of around six or seven decades to restore 280 ppmv with the sinks’ collapse, and perhaps four to five decades if they somehow endured.

    Given both a full carbon recovery capacity starting at best in 2030, and the fact of having more than 390 ppmv of CO2 by that date, and the rising abrasion of the carbon sinks, and, critically, the ~35 year timelag on reductions of CO2 ppmv taking effect on global temperature, it seems pretty clear that the carbon recovery option would be doing very well to affect global temperature marginally by 2065.

    Thus while carbon recovery is an utterly necessary component of strategy alongside ending anthro GHG emissions ASAP, it is nowhere near sufficient to control global temperature swiftly enough to halt and reverse the interactive feedbacks’ acceleration before they get beyond our reach.



  69. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Restoring Albido

    Mike #22 at #46 wrote:

    “. . . it may be time to buy some insurance in the event we don’t move fast enough. The methane thing is scary. Just one or two planes with sulfur burning equipment, one or two boats fixed up to make salt spray. Test the technology. Figure out how to cool the arctic. Start the treaty process.

    I am no fan of geoengineering, but if comes down to a choice between crossing the point of no return on methane and permafrost carbon, and adding a few percent to the world’s SO2 emissions, we need to be prepared.”

    While I share the motivation of prudence in the above, with respect I differ with its rationale. With the ending of our GHG output doing nothing to reduce CO2 ppmv, and with our best efforts at CO2 recovery showing little if any effect on global temperature before 2065, and with the pipeline warming plus whatever increase our remaining GHG outputs impose looming inexorably, and with the coming boost to warming of clearing the planet’s veil of fossil fuels’ particulates and SO2, the idea that
    “. . . it may be time to buy some insurance in the event we don’t move fast enough.”
    overlooks the fact that restoring planetary albido is now the sole visible option by which we can “move fast enough”.

    The issue of governance is the starting point. Both forestry for carbon recovery and restoring albido have been vilified by some, apparently on the spurious grounds that because they could be done badly, they would be. Governance is the aspect that will prevent both being abused as mere offset-fodder facilitating the continuation of fossil fuel dependency, that would waste their unique potentials to redeem our position.

    Personally I think that directly affecting climate intentionally is of such import that it will have to be mandated by the UN General Assembly to build the required consensus, and both carbon recovery and albido restoration will then operate under the terms of ecological, economic and social prudence that the Assembly agrees.

    The two most promising options for restoring planetary albido vary greatly in the sensitivity of their management – while the sea-spray vessels would operate on areas with reliable offshore winds to carry brightened clouds out over the open oceans to rain out within a few days, injecting SO2 into the upper atmosphere would see it spread around the world by the action of the winds, and it would take around two years to gradually dissipate.

    Given that the sea spray vessels’ advantages plainly outweigh those of the low-cost sulphur emissions, assuming pilot sea trials were satisfactory, it is worth noting that for the sake of accurate scientific monitoring their performance could not be tested at an operational scale at the same time as the sulphur emissions option. From this, it would seem that the cloud brightening option should be given substantial research priority.

    As to the rate of impact on planetary temperature, Professor Salter (who co-designed the vessels) suggests that two to three years should be long enough to start giving the required effect, using between 1,000 and 2,000 of the special 150-ft vessels. If we were to stop turning a blind eye to the reality that albido restoration is now the essential complement of climate strategy, and instead start pushing a radical practical message of strategy renewal, it is just possible that cloud brightening could be operating in time to help conserve the Arctic ice-cap.

    Yet the most cogent rationale for operating the sea-spray vessels is not about reversing the decline of the ice cap, it is about preventing the coming unprecedented genocide by serial famines due to drought, primarily among those peoples who have least liability for initiating the GHG problem. In the absence of a refutation of the necessity arguments outlined above, to now oppose albido restoration without providing a benign alternative method to fulfil its function is to gamble with those countless lives that somehow the feedbacks will go away, or back to sleep, or just fail to interact, for over half a century. That wishful thinking seems a lousy sort of bet to make.



  70. mike roddy says:


    I’m not knowledgeable on European coppice, but North American temperate forests are different even from Scandinavian ones, and quite different from US Southeastern forests, too. Trees in the US Pacific coastal forests can continue to sequester carbon for centuries, and can reach diameters exceeding 5 feet, with accompanying carbon storage. Species reaching gigantic dimensions out here include douglas fir, spruce, cedar, and some pines and hemlock.

    Coastal Pacific forests typically hold from 400 to 1400 tons (in the case of redwoods) of carbon per acre, and the trees can be 8 feet in diameter and 350 feet high. Interior Western sugar pine and sequoia are also huge trees when allowed to grow in nature. Australian eucalyptus forests also sequester comparable amounts. By contrast, the Brazilian rainforest reaches carbon equilibrium at about 150 Mt of carbon per acre, or close to that in the American southeast.

    Fires result in the loss of about 20% of site carbon, but growth is stimulated afterward. Logging is the opposite- about 80% of the site carbon goes into the atmosphere. This is counterintuitive, but well supported by field evidence.

    When I said poplar monocultures on degraded land, the example would be failed grazing land, not formerly productive farmland, which I agree should not be used for trees if it has agricultural potential.

    The only sacrifices required would be to use less paper towels, packaging, advertising and newspaper fiber, and wood construction materials.