Why The Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral Matters

Arctic sea ice extent takes a nosedive this year. What does it mean for us? (Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

By Neven Acropolis with Kevin McKinney

In the past week the Arctic sea ice cover reached an all-time low, several weeks before previous records, several weeks before the end of the melting season. The long-term decline of Arctic sea ice has been incredibly fast, and at this point a sudden reversal of events doesn’t seem likely. The question no longer seems to be “will we see an ice-free Arctic?” but “how soon will we see it?”. By running the Arctic Sea Ice blog for the past three years I’ve learned much about the importance of Arctic sea ice. With the help of Kevin McKinney I’ve written the piece below, which is a summary of all the potential consequences of disappearing Arctic sea ice.

Arctic sea ice became a recurrent feature on planet Earth around 47 million years ago. Since the start of the current ice age, about 2.5 million years ago, the Arctic Ocean has been completely covered with sea ice. Only during interglacials, like the one we are in now, does some of the sea ice melt during summer, when the top of the planet is oriented a bit more towards the Sun and receives large amounts of sunlight for several summer months. Even then, when winter starts, the ice-free portion of the Arctic Ocean freezes over again with a new layer of sea ice.

Since the dawn of human civilization, 5000 to 8000 years ago, this annual ebb and flow of melting and freezing Arctic sea ice has been more or less consistent. There were periods when more ice melted during summer, and periods when less melted. However, a radical shift has occurred in recent times. Ever since satellites allowed a detailed view of the Arctic and its ice, a pronounced decrease in summer sea ice cover has been observed (with this year setting a new record low). When the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, it was generally thought that the Arctic could become ice-free somewhere near the end of this century. But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade.

What makes this event significant, is the role Arctic sea ice plays as a reflector of solar energy. Ice is white and therefore reflects a large part of incoming sunlight back out to space. But where there is no ice, dark ocean water absorbs most of the sunlight and thus heats up. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, melting more ice. This feedback has all kinds of consequences for the Arctic region. Disappearing ice can be good for species such as tiny algae that profit from the warmer waters and extended growing season, but no sea ice could spell catastrophe for larger animals that hunt or give birth to offspring on the ice. Rapidly changing conditions also have repercussions for human populations whose income and culture depend on sea ice. Their communities literally melt and wash away as the sea ice no longer acts as a buffer to weaken wave action.

But what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic. The rapid disappearance of sea ice cover can have consequences that are felt all over the Northern Hemisphere, due to the effects it has on atmospheric patterns. As the ice pack becomes smaller ever earlier into the melting season, more and more sunlight gets soaked up by dark ocean waters, effectively warming up the ocean. The heat and moisture that are then released to the atmosphere in fall and winter could be leading to disturbances of the jet stream, the high-altitude wind that separates warm air to its south from cold air to the north. A destabilized jet stream becomes more ‘wavy’, allowing frigid air to plunge farther south, a possible factor in the extreme winters that were experienced all around the Northern Hemisphere in recent years. Another side-effect is that as the jet stream waves become larger, they slow down or even stall at times, leading to a significant increase in so-called blocking events. These cause extreme weather simply because they lead to unusually prolonged conditions of one type or another. The recent prolonged heatwave, drought and wildfires in the USA are one example of what can happen; another is the cool, dull and extremely wet first half of summer 2012 in the UK and other parts of Eurasia.

[JR: See Arctic Death Spiral: How It Favors Extreme, Prolonged Weather Events ‘Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves’.]

The accumulation of heat in Arctic waters also influences other frozen parts of the Arctic, such as glaciers and ice caps on Greenland and in the Canadian Archipelago. As there is less and less sea ice to act as a buffer, more energy can go into melting glaciers from below and warming the air above them. This has a marked effect on Greenland’s marine-terminating glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet. Not only are glaciers flowing faster towards sea, but there is also a rapid increase in the summer surface melt Greenland experiences, leading to accelerating mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet. As the Arctic warms, an increased contribution to sea level rise is inevitable.

Another way Arctic warming could have worldwide consequences is through its influence on permafrost. Permanently frozen soils worldwide contain 1400-1700 Gigatons of carbon, about four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity in modern times. A 2008 study found that a period of abrupt sea-ice loss could lead to rapid soil thaw, as far as 900 miles inland. Apart from widespread damage to infrastructure (roads, houses) in northern territories, resulting annual carbon emissions could eventually amount to 15-35 percent of today’s yearly emissions from human activities, making the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere a much more difficult task.

An even more worrying potential source of greenhouse gases is the methane in the seabed of the Arctic Ocean, notably off the coast of Siberia. These so-called clathrates contain an estimated 1400 Gigatons of methane, a more potent though shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Methane clathrate, a form of water ice that contains a large amount of methane within its crystal structure, remains stable under a combination of high pressure and low temperature. At a depth of 50 meters or less the East Siberian Arctic Shelf contains the shallowest methane clathrate deposits, and is thus most vulnerable to rising water temperatures. Current methane concentrations in the Arctic already average about 1.90 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years.

Apart from these unrecoverable sources of fossil fuel the Arctic is also endowed with large amounts of recoverable oil and natural gas. As the sea ice retreats, the Arctic’s fossil treasures are eyed greedily by large corporations and nations bordering the Arctic Ocean. Not only might this lead to geopolitical tensions in a world where energy is rapidly becoming more expensive, it is also highly ironic that the most likely cause of the disappearance of Arctic sea ice – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – could lead to more extraction of said fuels. Another feedback loop.

News articles referring to the Arctic and its sea ice usually have pictures of polar bears accompanying the text. But although many animals in the Arctic will be impacted negatively by the vanishing of Arctic sea ice, much more is at stake. After thousands of years in which the sea ice played a vital role in the relatively stable conditions under which modern civilization, agriculture and a 7 billion strong world population could develop, it increasingly looks as if warming caused by the emission of greenhouse gases is bringing an end to these stable conditions. Whether there still is time to save the Arctic sea ice, is difficult to tell, but consequences will not disappear when the ice is gone. It seems these can only be mitigated by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and out of the air. Whichever way you look at it, business-as-usual is not an option.

For more information on Arctic sea ice, check out the Arctic Sea Ice blog.

— Neven Acropolis with Kevin McKinney

Images used:

Arctic sea ice extent reconstruction – Kinnard et al. 2011
Sea ice albedo feedback – NASA
Polar jet stream – NC State University
Greenland ice sheet surface melt – NASA
Permafrost distribution in the Arctic – GRID-Arendal
Atmospheric methane concentration – NOAA ESRL
Russia plants flag at North Pole – Reuters



84 Responses to Why The Arctic Sea Ice Death Spiral Matters

  1. The Wonderer says:

    Isn’t there also a potential impact to ocean currents?

  2. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    The big problem with tipping points in the climate system is we can’t yet identify them for certain until they happen. And reversing any of them would take the same amount of time as causing them. With no global reduction in CO2 or the framework to start that process, I don’t see any realistic outcome for the artic except no ice in summer in very short order. Staying positive is one thing but as we have seen clearly nature is pulling ahead while we fall father behind in our responseto this crisis.

  3. Jason says:

    Alas, tipping points aren’t generally reversible. They are tipping points that lead to new states. The path back may not be possible at all, or may require a different path to get there. Read for example French mathematician René Thom’s excellent work on Catastrophe theory (this is all about mathematical functions and system behavior).

  4. fj says:

    The President must bring this rapidly progressing crisis before the American people.

  5. Vince says:

    This seems well researched and written. Thanks for the update. For my part, I believe there will be mid-term winners and losers due to the rapid climate changes. I for one plan to buy property in Canada, enough to farm on, and reasonably far away from big cities which will be the points of most significant socially-driven danger once the tipping point(s) is(are) exceeded.

  6. Jack Burton says:

    This is now all happening much faster than science was predicting just a couple years ago. We weer been informed of drastic sea ice melt in the latter half of the 21st century. Well, as late as 2005, I was on a Sept. flight over Greenland and was blown away by the massive melt lakes and rivers on the surface of the high glaciers of the interior of Greenland. Striking and something I did not see back in the 80’s during numerous flights over Greenland.
    The feed back mechanism is what I think has set this process ahead of predictions. We all know the power of snow covered ice to reflect the suns radiant heat back to space. It is clear that once global warming reached the point where summer was seeing significant sea ice melt, then that feedback loop would kick in immediately, and so it has.
    This rapid process also threatens to trigger that methane hydrate release, already witnessed off of Russia’s eastern Siberian coast. Enough to shock the Russian Academy of Science, a long time skeptical organization. And now we have evidence of rapid permafrost melt releasing methane and CO2, northern lakes are also releasing methane much faster across Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
    Look, add all this up and what do you get? A clear potential for a rapid, very rapid release of methane and CO2 to add to the already warming atmosphere. Clearly we are in very dangerous territory NOW, not decades in the future, NOW! The wild and extreme weather of the last few years signals we are already in deep trouble.
    Scientists are by nature conservative and have not gone out ahead of their data, perhaps it was wishful thinking on their part to see this rapid climate instability happening decades out on the future. But evidence is piling up that we are already in dangerous territory and man’s releases of CO2 are themselves nearly in runaway mode. The expansion of energy intense economic activity to great nations like China and India and Brazil etc. etc. makes it a rather hopeless situation.
    Nobody I know of thinks for a minute that emissions of CO2 by man will do anything but rise faster and faster.

  7. It’s all about the ice cap. Save the ice cap.

    This is the rally symbol for climate change. It’s visible, intuitively understandable and, with all due respect to Bill McKibben, far less abstract a goal than 350 ppm of CO2.

    Once the ice cap goes, even if just for a few weeks, a self-reinforcing feedback loop will have been set into irreversible motion. The permafrost at the edge of the Arctic will melt and release eons of sequestered methane and carbon dioxide, which will drive yet further warming, and further melting, and further releases. Seasonal weather patterns will be further distorted. From the point of view of agriculture, the atmosphere will experience a total systemic failure.

    We can’t allow this trigger point to be reached. I can visualize President Obama and other world leaders making a simultaneous announcement that the world is going to cooperate to prevent this catastrophe. That is the only way it can be prevented. We can’t have Russia or China not joining in.

    The biggest impediment to this plan is the the paranoid, ultra-right, Agenda-21 crackpots who are now in charge of the Republican Party. They jump right over the obvious first-order risk of the ice cap disappearing to focus on the second-order risk of heavy-handed centralized government intrusion. Well, if the climate collapses, their worst fears will be realized. If the ice cap goes, social chaos will ensue, including a rise in terrorism because the largely Muslim Third World will blame the West. That will drive the government to martial law.

    Forget sea-level rise. Long before that’s a real problem, the atmosphere will have gone into fibrillation and destroyed agriculture globally.

    Save the ice cap. It’s an emergency we can grasp. We need a visualization. 350 doesn’t do it.

  8. Jack, absolutely right on. I’ve wondered why scientists haven’t grabbed us by the lapels, wild-eyed, and shaken us. I think it’s because they are terrified, but fear being labeled as cranks and losing their credibility, which is their only lever of persuasion. They’re already the object of smear campaigns to impugn their integrity. Scientists are by disposition conservative. The scientific method is to question and experiment repeatedly to establish the truth.

    The notion that all climate scientists the world over, with their divergent personal, professional, and national interests, are colluding to hoodwink all of humankind in the service of some one-world-government plot is beyond ludicrous. But it’s believed by enough people, who are then leveraged by the powerful who cannot accept the implications of climate change or who have a vested interest in the status quo.

    The 2012 election is pivotal. If the Regressives win, we are in very, very deep trouble.

  9. Chris Winter says:

    Raymond Welch wrote: “I’ve wondered why scientists haven’t grabbed us by the lapels, wild-eyed, and shaken us.”

    A few of them have (figuratively) done so — most notably a fellow (clear-eyed, not wild-eyed) name of Hansen.

    The ranks of scientists who see the necessity of this “meddling” (as critics typically term it) have grown in recent years. And more power to them.

    Your second paragraph, BTW, is spot on.

  10. Brian R Smith says:

    Can we have a show of hands from the climate scientists in the audience… how many of you would like to be part of a nationally broadcast event that presents the unvarnished truth about climate findings and restores the credibility of science in framing our responses? A few thousand, OK.

    Now how many big climate orgs in the room are working together on this or any other media strategy that treats the crisis as a public emergency requiring emergency, cooperative, big scale messaging, asap? Anyone?… OK, I guess we’ll get back to that later.

  11. Richard Miller says:

    Joe et al,

    This post and a chapter from an excellent global warming book that I am reading maintain that “methane, a more potent though shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” Now it is my understanding that methane typically oxidizes into CO2 (so with you get the uberpotent short term warming of methane coupled with the centuries to thousands of years warming of CO2) and water vapor, which is also a greenhouse gas.

    This is an important point that requires some clarification.

    Here is a scientific statement of this process:

    Tropospheric oxidation
    The predominant mechanism for removal of
    methane from the earth’s atmosphere is
    oxidation within the troposphere by the hydroxylradical (OH). The hydroxyl radical is responsible for the breakdown and removal of a host of trace gases, including methane, and for this reason is known as the ‘cleanser of the atmosphere’. In essence, atmospheric OH effects a low temperature combustion of ‘fuels’, such as methane and other hydrocarbon species, by eventually oxidising methane to carbon dioxide,
    as would happen if methane were burned.

    And this,

    “Some of this methane can get trapped (as a gas, as a solid, dissolved or eaten) and some makes its way to the atmosphere where it is gradually broken down to CO2 and water (H2O) vapor in a series of chemical reactions.”

    See here

  12. BlackDragon says:

    It has always puzzled me why the tipping point was seen as being no more summer ice cap (more or less).

    Isn’t it more like the marble on the table top? The tipping point is when the marble is first pushed off the table, not when it comes to rest on the floor.

  13. john c. wilson says:

    Methane in the atmosphere has been increasing faster than it oxidizes. As long as the trend is upwards it is quite appropriate to note the short term potency of methane as a greenhouse gas 120 times more effective than carbon dioxide.

  14. Tom King says:

    Can’t help but notice the current slope of the graph is more extreme than the lines above it. Also there is more range in the low points than the highs. This looks to me like the system is increasingly attracted to zero as the exposed ocean looses its reflective cover.

  15. Byron Smith says:

    I recently wrote a post on the various effects of a seasonally ice-free Arctic and came up with precisely the same nine as Neven just mentioned, so I feel pretty good about that.

    1. Arctic ecosystem change/habitat loss
    2. Arctic (human) communities culture/infrastructure loss
    3. Albedo change to global energy budget
    4. Permafrost melt acceleration
    5. Methane clathrates destabilisation
    6. Greenland ice sheet melt acceleration
    7. Geo-political tensions over Arctic resources
    8. Exploitation of Arctic fossil hydrocarbon resources feedback
    9. Complex effects on NH wind/weather patterns via polar jetstream effects.

    10. I considered a tenth, namely, a further disruption to the global energy budget from the freeing of the latent heat energy that previously was being used to accomplish the phase transition of ice -> water, though my back of the envelope calculations suggest that this is a much smaller issue than albedo change (I’d love to see some reputable work on this topic as I’m far from any kind of expert).

    Now that I think about it a little more, I can think of a further seven issues that neither Neven nor I mentioned. Some of these I’m very tentative about (esp ##15&16).

    11. The release of persistent toxins and heavy metals that had become trapped in the ice.

    12. The opening up of Arctic shipping routes which (a) reduces fuel needs of global shipping by cutting distances (negative feedback) but (b) brings more diesel fuel into the Arctic region, leaving black soot on glaciers (positive feedback). Not sure which is the larger effect.

    13. Reconnection of marine ecosystems previously separated by ice with unpredictable ecosystem changes from invasive species. This is already occurring.

    14. Opening up of Arctic fishing grounds to greater exploitation (and noise pollution).

    15. Potential effects on thermohaline circulation. I haven’t seen any work on this related to seasonal sea ice loss, so I have no idea whether it is significant. (NB Reply comment #1 relates more to Greenland melt than Arctic sea ice melt).

    16. Potential effects on ocean acidification by increasing surface area for atmosphere-ocean gas exchange. Would this make any difference to ocean capacity to act as CO2 sink or rate of acidification? Maybe this is irrelevant. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere and is just an idea that came to me.

    17 . Highly visual and difficult to dispute sign of climate change, representing a potential tipping point in public awareness and concern. If we are waiting for that, however, before we make any serious efforts to slash emissions (esp if it doesn’t occur until 2030 or later), we’ll already have so much warming committed that we’ll pretty much be toast. At best, therefore, this point might consolidate public support for massive rapid emissions reductions already underway.

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Jason, thank you for mentioning Thom’s great contribution to systems science and for reminding us that if it had been properly acknowledged, we would not have been caught out by the rapid escalation of the climate crisis and wondering what went wrong. Hopefully, some of the survivors will be able to use it and other systems work to reconstitute our sciences, ME

  17. Richard Miller says:

    I agree that we should say that methane is a potent greenhouse gas, but when we say that it is short lived we are not giving the whole picture. It sounds as if the gas becomes neutral in the atmosphere after a relative short time frame. My point is that if methane breaks down into CO2 and water vapor, we need to also say that and indicate that 25% of the CO2 we emit in the atmosphere last 1,000 years and 10% of that, according to David Archer, last 100,000 years. Methane breaking down into CO2 makes it even more problematic than one might suspect when one reads about its short-term potency.

  18. Eradani Berachah says:

    there was a cyclone aug 5 in the arctic. its path took it through quite a bit of ice that was primed to melt. that’s why the curve gets so steep.

    a little gif i made of the NSIDC Daily Sea Ice Concentration for 1 day before the cyclone and then after for a total of 7 days.

    Cyclone hits Arctic on Aug 5

    doesn’t say i can use this tag but i’ll try anyways…

  19. Gillian King says:

    Excellent article by David Spratt at Climate Code Red. He concludes:

    Given what is happening at just 0.8C, it’s pretty obvious that global warming would need to be brought down to no more than 0.5C, if not lower. That’s about 310 parts per million atmospheric (ppm) carbon dioxide, compared to the current level of 390 ppm and the pre-industrial level of 280ppm.

  20. Mike Roddy says:

    The biggest problem is that at least 90% of Americans don’t know what’s going on in the Arctic, and if they heard something it will go something like “who cares about a few polar bears” or “now we’ll just grow our wheat in Canada”.

    As Leif pointed out, the last glaciation scraped Canada of most of its quality topsoil, and deposited it in the Midwest. Arctic melting will mean starvation for a while, but then Monstanto will grow GM cereals in greenhouses. People will more or less get fed, at least in North America, but the chaos and violence will be arriving here, on both of our shores.

  21. Sarsaparilla says:

    A very good point Gillian. I hadn’t thought of the implications of what we’re seeing, but I’d bet your right…however out of reach 350ppm is, it may be to high to restore summer ice in the arctic…we may have to go much lower to get our summer ice cap back once we loose it over the coming years.

  22. Sarsaparilla says:

    I love the idea, the visualization is seriously important – however the cap is effectively gone at this point ( we could cut off all human CO2 emissions going forward and it would still go). However bring back the summer ice cap would be effective as well and relevant in a decade or so, although it seems like something that will be really long term (end of this century or further out even if we get our act in gear over the next decade, which seems pretty far fetched at this point).

  23. Sasparilla says:

    Very good point. When CH4 is mentioned as a shorter lived gas it should say it breaks down into CO2 & water vapor so folks know its not getting a lot better after breakdown.

  24. atcook27 says:

    So to save the arctic ice we have to:
    Not just slow our rate of increase of CO2 emmissions (no signs of this occurring).
    Not just decrease our rate of increase to zero to establish a steady emmissions state
    (can’t see this occuring any time soon).
    Not just decrease our CO2 emmissions to zero(aint going to happen in my lifetime). But to start reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to a point which is conducive to the steady reaccumulation of Arctic Ice. I’d suggest somewhere well less than 350ppm. There is a snow balls chance in hell of this occuring in time to stop my 3 year old sons life being very different to mine (in a bad way).

  25. Wonhyo says:

    The second derivative of the sea ice extent curve is currently zero. That is, the decline in ice extent hasn’t even started to curve back up. Unless there is a dramatic recovery, the ice extent looks set to drop to less than 3 million square kilometers, shattering the previous record minimum.

    Methane is now a more important measure of climate stability than CO2. We all know CO2 will continue to rise until fossil fuel use declines. Nobody should be surprised to see the atmospheric CO2 concentration increase by another 2 to 2.25 ppm over the next year.

    What’s critical now is if/when the atmospheric transitions out of a stable state (i.e. the tipping point). Methane has a greater short-term effect than CO2. Furthermore, the release of methane cannot be directly controlled by changes in policy and human behavior. Policies to reduce fossil fuel use will reduce CO2 emissions, but that will not directly or immediately reduce methane emissions.

    The tipping point will be indicated by a sharp and sustained rise in atmospheric methane. We need to pay more attention to atmospheric methane concentration.

  26. David Lewis says:

    This formal statement was prepared in 1988 at the Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference by 400 scientists and policy makers from 40 countries. It was only a few days after Hansen’s famous 1988 Congressional testimony. Note the reference in the first paragraph that climate change as a problem can only be exceeded by a global nuclear war.

    Hansen wasn’t the only one trying to get through to people.

  27. David Lewis says:

    Schellnhuber, Climate Advisor to Chancellor Merkel of Germany, gave the keynote speech to the 4 degrees conference in Australia. If that link doesn’t work go to this page and navigate from Session 1 “Strange Encounters behind the 2 degrees C firewall”.

    At one point in the speech he discusses what a “tipping point” is. He described one, saying we could “tip” the system now, and it would careen slowly beyond anything we could do over the next few thousand years adding 3 more degrees or so to whatever else we were also doing. A “tipping point”, he said, doesn’t mean something that once started takes place rapidly (in human terms).

    Schellnhuber edited or supervised the PNAS “Tipping Elements in Earth Systems Special Feature” issue which contains articles describing a number of potential “tipping points” in the planetary system.

  28. It’s not so simple. Much of the land in Canada that will become available for farming if the growing season is extended has poor soil, a remnant of retreating glaciers. Here’s a map.

  29. Sorry. The red area on the map I linked to shows the “Canadian Shield,” the area with little immediate agricultural potential. You can see how vast it is — a major part of Canada. It is describes thusly in Wikipedia:

    [The Canadian Shield] is a vast geological shield covered by a thin layer of soil that forms the nucleus of the North American or Laurentia craton. It is an area mostly composed of igneous rock which relates to its long volcanic history. It has a deep, common, joined bedrock region in Eastern and central Canada and stretches North from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, covering over half of Canada;

  30. David Lewis says:

    I wonder. Ken Caldeira put out a video in conjunction with his just published Scientific American essay. In the video he seems to go farther than what you’re saying.

    SciAm put the question to him, what could happen if we burn ALL the fossil fuels? In the video he singles out ecosystems – what’s going to happen to a lot of them will be catastrophic.

    But “it might be for the middle classes of the industrialized world that climate change is really a secondary issue and that they’ll still have their TV sets and their McBurgers and McNuggets to eat and that life will go on. That said, we don’t really know that’s true, blah blah blah….”

    I was astonished he could say something like that. Given that he was asked what happens if we burn ALL the fossil fuels.

    I don’t see it.

  31. Methane is usually referred to as having 20 times the greenhouse effect of CO2. But that’s over a 100 year horizon. It has 72 time the effect over a 20 year horizon, and 20 years is about all we’ve got left to stop AGW from being out of our hands — maybe not even that much time.

    And, as you point out, methane isn’t just neutralized as it breaks down — it adds to the CO2 and water vapor loads.

    Not to be played with.

  32. We’ve passed the tipping point on arctic sea ice, though the public, especially the American public probably won’t grasp that fact — or certainly grasp its implications — for several more years. (If Calderia’s right about middle class American’s remaining in front of their TV”s, they’ll never get it!)

    So where does that leave us. Phase change. We’re in a brave new world, and there is no going back. The center cannot hold.

    I guess we could try arctic geoengineering, as David Spratt at Code Red has suggested, if not out-and-out endorsed as a solution in a recent essay. But with the arctic jet stream all wacky-wobbly, seems like any man-made “cloud cover” that gets sprayed in the atmosphere over the Arctic would soon end up — who knows where?

    Maybe the old Mayan calendar nonsense is right after all. 2012 is the year when the rug comes out from under us.

  33. fj says:

    There were and are indications that this type rapid change had happened in the past; just very difficult to believe.

  34. fj says:

    The impossible task before us is to learn to play this fine planetary instrument to support humanity’s song “As We Like It.”

  35. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s the ‘points of no return’ (for many tens or hundreds of millennia) we must fear. I’m pretty sure that barring an unprecedented global, co-operative, effort, that we are already doomed. The rest is epilogue. I’d love to hear of some mechanism that can reasonably be hoped to intervene to stop the Arctic melting, leading to temperature amplification, leading to methane release from permafrost and submarine clathrates, Doomsday scenario,

  36. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Wasn’t that the old Gallic term for chaos theory?

  37. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Those with the guns will have automobiles and helicopters, too. We can run, but we can’t hide. Every man for himself guarantees the rule of the worst.

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The science community has let us down, I’m sorry to say, by not shouting this from the rooftops. Easy for me to say, I know, but I think that they have squibbed it, under massive pressure from the powers-that-be. They ought to be saying it now, there being no longer much question that we are heading straight for a planetary disaster, by our own hand, orders of magnitude worse than any our species has suffered.

  39. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    No, no-I heard a denialist swear that it turns into fairy floss and phlogiston. You alarmists! Ho, ho-if you’re not alarmed yet…

  40. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    We will get nowhere near burning all the fossil fuels. We are midway through the beginning of the Great Unraveling where each ecological collapse, economic implosion and geo-political confrontation will exacerbate the overall collapse because complex systems, like our ‘heroic materialism’ built on the destruction of nature, the exploitation of man and the infinite greed of the insane few, are built tortuously and slowly, but collapse with accelerating rapidity as the various buttresses fall, one by one, knocking down the others as they go.

  41. Glenn Tamblyn says:

    Obama may not focus on it. But there sure as hell might be some SuperPACs that do. To those of us who have been watching the astounding melt season in the Arctic progress over the last 2 months – some people were calling it amazing in mid June – we had an almost ghoulish hope.

    That it would be more severe!

    The Arctic is in it’s final death spiral. Only a few years at most before it is ice free in summer. Since it is inevitable, if it happened slightly more quickly it might have one important benefit.

    It might wake people up. And if it had progressed further this year that would have been before the US elections.

    The Year Santa Drowned!

    I think that would carry some weight in an election where the GOP candidate is busy trying to buy the Tea Party vote by pandering to their loopy ideas.

  42. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A fearful and dread metaphor for the obtunded public viewing TV while all Hell breaks loose around them occurred during the Victorian firestorm in February 2009. Despite warnings that the conditions were almost certain to cause a fire disaster, many families chose not to leave the most endangered areas, but sat at home, the blinds or shutters closed, air-con on full blast, watching DVDs. When they finally looked outside, alerted by the bombardment of burning embers and debris, they found themselves in the middle of a firestorm. Whole families perished hideously as their homes exploded, or in their cars as they vainly sought to flee, too late.

  43. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Raymond – I’d agree that “Save the Ice Cap” makes a lot more sense as a rallying cry than 350!, not least because, owing to the timelag on warming from GHGs we’ve yet to see what the climate destabilization from 350ppm CO2 would look like. We do know that 350ppm in effect will include at least 6 out of 7 interactive mega-feedbacks accelerating, because they are already doing so. 350 isn’t a useful target in my view, and never was more than a milestone on a longer road.

    Saving the icecap means applying sufficient Albedo Restoration at this point. The alternative, of relying solely on ending global GHG emissions (by 2050?) gives timelagged warming out to say 2080, with the ice long gone. And that’s without factoring the warming from the accompanying sulphate parasol loss or the feedbacks.

    Neven reports a 15% to 35% CO2e rise over current anthro CO2 outputs due to the permafrost melt outputs, but this reflects optimism bias at both NYT and by Dr Edwin Schuur whose paper the NYT quotes. 15% was from a previous outdated study that Schuur notes – his proposes 35%. Yet to do so he sticks to the marginal methane output of just 2.7% of carbon, ignoring multiple interactions including massive high latitudes precipitation rise and peat saturation/submersion. In addition, he uses the CO2e value for methane of 25 x CO2 over 100 yrs, rather than the current relevant measure of over 100 x CO2 on the crucial 20yr time horizon.

    Schuur’s notion of permafrost raising annual GHG outputs by a mere 35% is thus wishful thinking. In practice it could well be twice that CH4 percentage or more, and it will involve the four-fold increase of CO2e value. Again, the only prospect of controlling that permafrost feedback dynamic is now Albedo Restoration.

    We can be very certain that governments are fully aware of these prognoses, not least because of the calibre of scientists like Holdren, Chu, etc in house, and many more in institutions like NOAA, NSIDC, etc. And yet the upshot is that climate remains tabu even for Obama’s election campaigning, despite its being a classic wedge issue with around 75% polled as wanting action.

    If this doesn’t tell people that Obama seeks no significant attention to or action on climate, I don’t know what would. “If he were Republican, that would be the normal assessment – because he’s a Democrat his negligence is is blamed on others” appears to be the level of analysis – which seems to me bizarre given the stakes.

    The reality is that within weeks of taking office he signalled his adoption of the Cheyney’s policy of a ‘Brinkmanship of Inaction’ with China, and has since advanced it remorselessly. Its goal is the climatic destabilization of China’s govt by civil unrest caused by crop failures imposing unaffordable food-prices. Right now the US has no other means in prospect of deflecting China’s rise to the ending of America’s global economic dominance.

    The threat to that policy being maintained is not that of climate impacts per se, but of enough of the public waking up to the fact that the circus of denial is just that, a circus veiling the bipartisan policy of inaction, under which govt now dismisses even the need of a climate treaty.

    In this light, while is doing sterling work in keeping environmentalists’ focus on the fossil lobby and its funding of denial, it is losing the support of an increasing fraction of those seeking the concerted global co-operation that you propose.



  44. john c. wilson says:

    The tipping point passed decades ago. The collapse point was 2007. We are in a headlong rush downwards.

  45. Artful Dodger says:

    Yes Sass you’re right, the Summer sea ice is already toast. What most environmentalists don’t understand is that we’re now fighting to save the WINTER sea ice. 40-odd more years of BAU emissions, and we’ll have a perennially ice free Arctic ocean, with no way back. That loss seals the future path of the climate for the next 1,000 years.

  46. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Dodger – how could ending BAU emissions save the winter ice cap ?

    The maths seems pretty clear:
    – A Treaty in 2015 to end net global emissions by say 2050, gives timelagged warming out to say 2080.
    – By 2080 all of the interactive feedback emissions prior to 2050 are also in effect as received warming, and are engaged in mutual acceleration.
    – Ending fossil fuel emissions ends our maintenance of the ‘Sulphate Parasol’, which Hanson et al report as unveiling an additional 80% to 140% of received warming –

    Short of the treaty mandating UN supervision of sufficient Albedo Restoration (without which mandate it could be a causus belli) there seems no serious prospect of the icecap enduring either in summer or winter.

    Moreover, short of a global program of Carbon Recovery being agreed as the means by which all nations verifiably recover their historic emissions, there seems no prospect of recovering sufficient airborne CO2 to avoid being permanently dependent on Albedo Restoration.

    Furthermore, without resolving the (US) historic emissions issue the negotiation of the treaty itself remains blocked.

    By my calculation we might have got by with only Carbon Recovery if a rapid emissions control treaty had been agreed under President Carter. But that’s water under the bridge now. So just how bad a prognosis is needed before people face the fact that Albedo Restoration is now indispensable ?



  47. Spike says:

    It seems that the attenuation of atmospheric methane increases between 1980 and 2005 was a consequence of reduced methane emissions from oil fields

    Will fracking with its higher fugitive emissions reverse this desirable situation?

  48. Uncle B says:

    Similarity with the American economic state hard to deny?

  49. Uncle B says:

    Living on that “Shield” depends on very few, very small deposits of poorly farm land. most Canadian food comes from Southern Ontario, and western provinces, and the U.S. This whole shiled area is snow-bound “desert” for more than two thirds the year right now. After the “Taw” it will be very very dry place, little soil to retian any moisture at all. no unveilling af a nirvana I’m afraid.

  50. Brooks Bridges says:

    Noticed this one just now. I’m confused. In the article I read: “But changes in the Arctic have progressed at such speed that most experts now think 2030 might see an ice-free Arctic for the first time. Some say it could even happen this decade.”

    Are they talking year round?


    Brave New Climate published a graph of PIOMAS yearly minimum Arctic ice volume with X axis 1975 to 2020 and shows an exponential curve fit of the data.
    The trend goes to zero in 2015. The upper 99% confidence band goes to zero in 2018.

    So are we talking September vs year round or are the PIOMAS data suspect?

  51. Uncle B says:

    Clatherites? Japan wishing to “mine” these in the north? Can they “thaw”? Even the great muskeg swamps, the tundra, ferment when thawed, produce this gas, northern lakes trap huge bubbles of methane as it is, as they warm, more? Appreciably more? Contributers to an “Avalance effect”?

  52. Uncle B says:

    If all the pavement in North America were in one huge square, would there be a calculatable Solar heating effect, vis a vie., green pastures and forested areas?
    Can all the heat given off, waste and electric load, added together give a significan number in calories? Compared to without this heat? Similarly jet planes aganst electric bullet trains(steel wheel to steel rail a full 400% more efficent?)
    This is my favorite cut and paste!
    “Had the $650 billions+ spent on Iraq, been spent on conventional Solar/Thermal development of South Western U.S.A. – Today, Americans would receive a ROI ( “Return On Investment”) in place of horrendous tax rates to service unpayable war debt to China. Americans would be gainfully working, using this renewable, perpetual, eternal, electricity source – to compete in world markets with well priced products, and much less foreign oil would have be imported, fewer ‘Parasite Nations” supported. This is the lost “opportunity cost” for having Saddam’s scrotum on the Bushes mantlepiece? Shiite eh!”
    P.S.,( oil wells do go dry, not really sourced from an eternal pipe up &Allah’s-ass, as some believe – But, the Sun never stops shining, Wind blows forever)

  53. Uncle B says:

    Proof read version. Sorry!
    If all the pavement in North America were in one huge square, would there be a calculable Solar heating effect, vis a vie., green pastures and forested areas?
    Can all the nuclear heat given off, waste and electric load, added together give a significant number in calories? Compared to without this heat? Similarly jet planes, cars, trucks, against electric bullet trains (steel wheel to steel rail a full 400% more efficient?)
    This is my favorite cut and paste!
    “Had the $650 billions+ spent on Iraq, been spent on conventional Solar/Thermal development of South Western U.S.A. – Today, Americans would receive a ROI ( “Return On Investment”) in place of horrendous tax rates to service unpayable war debt to China. Americans would be gainfully working, using this renewable, perpetual, eternal, electricity source – to compete in world markets with well priced products, and much less foreign oil would have be imported, fewer ‘Parasite Nations” supported. This is the lost “opportunity cost” for having Saddam’s scrotum on the Bushes mantlepiece? Shiite eh!”
    P.S.,( oil wells do so go dry, not really sourced from an eternal pipe up &Allah’s-ass, as some believe – But, the Sun never stops shining, Wind blows forever)

  54. Uncle B says:

    Ecological collapse? Southern Ontario lost its apple crops this year, an early warming caused blossoms, then a cold spell, uncharacteristic of this region, froze out the blossoms. Is this a transition to a warmer climate with a longer growing season? Folks now grow grapes in my home town region (Lakefield, Ontario) and the pear trees are doing better than ever before. We had a very extended tomato season this year, in my garden, but a dry year for the farmers, provoking irrigation now for strawbwerries, but again, a longer season, bigger berries, and sweeter due to the increase in sunny dry days? lakes around here are warmer and most annoyingly notable are growing a lot more weeds, even enough to prevent boating, but these weeds are government protected – next year a rush on Air-Boats? Very likely! Fish seem bigger and more plentiful too? Are these symptoms similar to the Greenland melt? The renewed interest in the North West passage? To be feared or rejoiced? Will better fed moose, deer, caribou rabbits,partridges, turkeys, grow in size and number? Enough to make this sparce land more habitable for mankind? Will the Blue Berry crops increas or diminish? Folks say there was a very good crop these pastr few years?

  55. BlackDragon says:

    Thanks, David, those are great links. It has been a while now that I’ve read things along the lines of “we better not get to an ice free arctic in the summer, because that could be a tipping point.” I see that an ice free summer could accelerate many other changes, like permafrost melt, clathrate release, etc, and these changes will likely take a few hundred years to fully unfold (slow tips).

    But now it seems the first domino tipped sometime a decade or two ago. This as-yet unrevealed event was the key first tip for the arctic sea ice. In my thinking it was likely when we had a significant amount of open water in the arctic in May – Aug that had never been there before in at least the last few thousand years.

    Once that point was crossed, and given that we are now experiencing only the full result of CO2 emissions up to through the 80s and there is a whole lot more warming coming down the pipe no matter what we do now, we are only going to be descending a series of stair steps, some more quickly than others.

    I think “descent” will be an appropriate term in many ways.

  56. The most recent thinking is that the sea ice will be gone in the summer in 10 to 20 years. This is based, in part, on current melting trends and in part on recent measurements of the ice thickness.

    Of course, our definition of “summer” might be extended as the climate warms. Crocodiles once lived with 600 miles of the north pole—

  57. Brian R Smith says:

    Agreed, but.. define shouting from the rooftops. In the NYTimes? In a Manifesto press release? Viral video? At the next COP-out? The next academic conference?

    When do we get it that climate scientists do not now have an effective venue for delivering the message to the public. That leaving the critical education of the nation on climate & energy to failed incremental campaigning and very successful confusionists is both insane and unnecessary.

    Climate science has to present its case along with, and in context of, a hugely complex world of challenges that we here know all too well but the public will find hard to deal with. How can we attempt this?

    Al Gore saw the potential for capturing attention through media and did the best he knew how to great effect, and we are grateful. What’s needed in the present is an even louder and much more inclusive clarion call. The inconvenient truth now is that PR in the climate movement has no unity of direction at a time when media strategy and execution should be high priority. I don’t understand why this isn’t a hot topic here.

    Easy for me to say…

  58. wili says:

    More likely next very few years. Have you seen the ice volume graphs?

  59. Sasparilla says:

    Mulga you always make me laugh – floghiston….that was a good one. ;-)

  60. Lawrence says:

    The graph showing extent over the last 1,450 years apparently isn’t scary enough since it stops in 2000. This guy was nice enough to update it to 2012, which is literally off the charts low (scroll down a bit):

    It’s not in English, but as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

  61. Sasparilla says:

    This sounds exactly right, unfortunately….and considering how much CO2 we’re putting up, how that’s not going to stop soon and the fact that it’s going to be slow pulling it out of the air in measurable ppm amounts…its going to be a long, long time from now if/when we’ll be able to get a summer arctic ice cap to form again (that’s assuming its possible) – it would seem this century will probably be out of the question to be able to do it.

  62. Sasparilla says:

    So many good comments here and a very good article. As we watch the spiral of arctic ice cap melt and swirl down into the toilet of climate change, one thing is sticking in my head. We’re (readers of these comments) probably not going to be around to see the arctic ice cap fixed no matter what our ages.

    As others have pointed out we’ll probably need to get significantly below 350ppm to get it back into existence and that is something so far from being achieved – even assuming optimistic action in the next decade it’ll probably be in the 22nd century before it reforms (if it can be reformed) with the more optimistic assumptions.

    One of those realities hitting my mental solar plexus today – we’re not just going to screw this up during our lifetimes (I’ve been understanding and accepting this for a long time), but were not going to be able to fix this during our lifetimes (and it’ll be very dicey whether we’ll be able to fix it or not depending on our actions and a lot of luck).

  63. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Thom and catastrophe theory not to be confused in any way with current chaos/complexity theory which is mainly slop, ME

  64. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Sasparilla – there’s certainly good comments here, but there’s also a hell of a lot of defeatism, to the point that it’s getting on for a majority outlook. That is profoundly disabling of effective campaigning (as well as being seriously unhealthy psychologically). Only hard-bitten committed veterans fight on regardless of the odds – most people need a positive goal and a feasible means of achieving it to fight well – let alone to volunteer for the campaign in great numbers.

    Given that even a stringent emissions control treaty is necessary but not remotely sufficient to halt the warming – and could not even be completed before global crop failures eradicate present societies – we know, and governments know, that more will have to be done – specifically albedo restoration and carbon recovery. At issue is not Whether but When that serious global action will begin, with delay cutting the chance of success. – The self-fulfilling defeatism arises IMHO from the lack of leadership on this reality. – which is as near a focus of dissent as exists in the US – urges pressure on the fossil lobby to forgo the fuels, but offers neither a coherent strategy for that goal nor for controlling committed warming, nor a positive final outcome as the rallying ambition. It is more of the same deficient adversarialism that has failed to rouse people for the last three or four decades, while climate prognoses have become ever more obviously dire.

    “I have a dream, people” was not mere rhetoric, it was a critically important expression of the ambition of the civil rights movement. We have nothing comparable since there is an unwillingness among dissenters’ present leaders to address the scope of the commensurate measures needed, and thus the goal of restoring a natural climate appears unobtainable and so is unmentionable.

    The combination of emissions control, albedo restoration and carbon recovery could, if applied rationally, regain a stable climate potentially within a decade, and could cleanse the atmosphere within a century. Yet the adoption of that global strategy demands the review of campaigners’ long held perspectives – is America right to obstruct the treaty by refusing to address its historic emissions ? Is Obama right to thereby maintain the Cheyney policy of a ‘Brinkmanship of Inaction’ ? Is the bipartisan US policy goal anything other than awaiting China’s climatic destabilization to break its rise to global economic dominance ?

    Until we address these questions we are going nowhere towards expressing the unifying positive ambition that is needed, and doing nothing to advance the reform of US climate policy and the global agreement of commensurate measures. That policy can be reformed as it has major inherent weaknesses, including the accelerating rise of untenable climate impacts on America, and its morally shameful recklessness in terms of global impacts making it indefensible and inadmissible both within America and in international relations.

    Until Americans turn and face what is being done in their name, and put an end to it, it is up to people from all countries to highlight this seminal issue. But nobody else can make the change for Americans.



  65. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Still well said. Hunger strikes, mass occupations, mass arrests, a climate Pussy Riot (or the male equivalent-‘Cock Uprising’)gyrating atop the Statue Of Liberty, sky-writing, petitions signed in blood, mass civil disobedience. The sane ones are too polite and the genocidaires are full of passionate insanity.

  66. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That was the talk where denialists who infected the audience were seen waving nooses at the climate scientists. And the conference where it was said that the ‘human carrying capacity’ of the planet at 4 degrees Celsius increase was just one billion.

  67. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Well Uncle B, I guess the wide world’s a little broader than just your lucky backyard. I reckon there’s some folks, south of you, who aren’t doing too special, and as drought ravages their bounteous earth, the real breadbasket of much of the planet, they are going to caste envious eyes in your direction. Your water will look good, too.

  68. Brian R Smith says:


    You point to the lack of coherent strategy in the climate movement(absence of which I call stragedy). I am dumfounded this is not the highest order topic among climate leaders, and among the many who are spiraling toward defeatism for lack of a comprehensive, actionable strategy and the energizing effect it would have on all parties.

    “The self-fulfilling defeatism arises IMHO from the lack of leadership on this reality.”

    My view is that the 1st objective of climate leadership strategy should be an overwhelmingly effective all-media campaign to establish science as the 1st authority on climate, and to deal a hard political blow to the industrial/Congressional confusionists. Include the elites but don’t wait for them. Command the ship. Be the navigator. The resources for this are undeniably available. It would be more than a shame not to deploy them; it would be a critical failure.

    Another objective, tied to the 1st: establish an online home base or portal that all constituencies can identify with and use for collaboration, political action, sourcing solutions, event tracking, etc.

    There are many objectives to consider. Tooling up for media dominance is only one. We should at least be talking a lot more about an overall campaign strategy, and who can -and should- take responsibility for it.

  69. Ilyan says:

    This planet passed the tipping point to Mass Extinction some while ago. The only hope now for the survival of Humanity is if the ‘High Frontier’ proposal by O’Neil can get microcosms of EarthLife living in various Space colonies before Earth’s ability to support Life terminates.

    The recovery time scale might be the time it takes for the Methane feedback to get enough Methane into the Ozone layer to clean out the Chlorine put there by CFCs.

    What we are seeing is described in”The Negative Outcome of Economics” which was censored off one website it was on.

  70. You’re right, Lewis–there’s already a lot of damage baked in (literally) to the existing CO2 levels, even without BAU. This is where I am a denialist of a different sort, though. I have to deny to myself that it’s completely hopeless. It’s a complex system. Maybe a prompt, significant ratchet downward of CO2 will feed some unanticipated ameliorative dynamic.

    I’m not familiar with “Albedo Restoration.” Is it a specific project?

  71. I would think the larger message to take from Uncle B’s post is that the climate is becoming less predictable. That makes it increasingly undependable for agriculture. And as the ice cap shrinks, the volatility of the weather will increase. So a few things may do better this year, or for a while, but in the long run (which isn’t so long now), it’s a catastrophe.

    Early blossoms killed by later frosts; pest proliferation, plant, animal, insect, and fungal; erratic rains; damaging winds; drought; floods; heat storms–none of these things is good for agriculture.

  72. John Nissen says:

    The sea ice is behaving as one would expect from the PIOMAS volume exponential trend, with the zero in January 2015. As the ice thins, a big storm, as occurred in early August, can break up the ice, causing a loss of extent as well as volume. Since the albedo flip effect is probably the dominant positive feedback, and now producing most of the current amplification, which has reached around 5 times global rate, we can expect the rate of Arctic warming to increase. The only conceivable way to prevent an escalation of all the bad things that Arctic warming produces is to cool the Arctic. And to cool the Arctic is going to require albedo enhancement on a large scale, hence a form of geoengineering. This has to be faced as the reality of the situation, whatever qualms people have about taking action on a large scale. Engineers are not fazed by such situations – it is essentially a matter of developing a sound technique that can be scaled up and then scaling up the deployment necessary to produce the required cooling power, which could be the order of a petawatt in the worst case. AMEG ( has long been advocating geoengineering to prevent a collapse of sea ice, but very few in the academic establishment would support them, arguing that the Arctic situation was not nearly as dangerous as AMEG suggested and geoengineering would be premature. Perhaps the partial collapse in sea ice extent that we are witnessing will be a tipping point in their thinking, and all can rally around action to cool the Arctic – scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens alike.

  73. krp says:

    True enough, a careful review of some of the geological and geophysical journals offers a refreshing perspective on the historical precedence of global warming events. However, it certainly appears to be clear that large-scale global warming episodes demarcate the closure of major biospheres. We have tended to define these closures, such as the end-Permian or end-Cretaceous or end-Eocene as having highly significant retraction of the living order at the time.

    I don’t know, and this is the worrisome matter, if there has ever been an initiating release of carbon quite comparable with the man-induced release in recent time. Even the recently reported phenomenology describing the igneous intrusion of coal deposits that may have played a pivotal role in the end-Permian mass extinction may not be as large as the so highly effected release of carbon through combustion of fossil fuels that is happening absolutely everywhere on the face of this planet at the present time. I mean 34 Gigatons per year of carbon, when reinforced an an annual basis is a very hefty release of atmospheric carbon. Consequently, there is going to be a concomitant response (i.e., delay in removal of this atmospheric gas, together with reinforcement of its effect on release of methane from marine and permafrost deposits).

    I am quite conserned that there is little precedence for what we have done. One billion cars and trucks later, and we wonder what happened to us ….

  74. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Raymond – first, albedo restoration is about the option of restoring the planet’s albedo to a previous level that would now return global temperature to the pre-industrial level. The objectives would be threefold:
    – halting the further influx of heat to the oceans – that would be emitted after some decades of time-lag;
    – halting the acceleration of the diverse interactive mega-feedbacks that are now active, and preventing others from becoming active;
    – halting the climate destabilization that threatens global crop failure as well as rising infrastructure damage and impact casualties.

    Cloud brightening – by lofting sea spray to provide minute salt crystals to clouds to raise their albedo – is the most promising research option with relevant potential scale that I’ve heard of. Joe has painting roofs white as one of the options includes in his preferred ‘Wedges’ recipe for mitigation. Edward Teller proposed sulfate aerosols back in ’95, when Cheyney was between jobs as Bush senior Sec of Defense and Bush junior vice president.

    The use of albedo restoration is very controversial due to two camps – NGOs who fear it would necessarily be a malign techno fix avoiding emissions reduction – and US politicians who see its premature use as letting China off the hook of facing climatic destabilization that would end their rise to global economic dominance.

    Some scientists are brazenly obscuring the feedbacks’ risks – particularly of ESAS methane hydrates – to dismiss the need even of albedo restoration over the arctic, but it’s unclear which camp they may be acting for. I say brazenly because they are certainly able to work out that emissions control alone by 2050 plus timelag gives warming to 2080 or so, and also ends the cooling sulfate parasol, which is obviously way beyond what the feedbacks need to run amok, let alone what is needed to impose serial catastrophic global crop failures.

    With regard to your keeping hope, I’d say good for you. But I’d also point out it’s not irrational to do so: our predicament is certainly open to resolution, for all it will take some very substantial changes primarily in terms of political action. One very positive aspect that you might not have seen is the work of the Global Commons Institute – which has promoted the climate treaty policy framework of Contraction & Convergence to the point where it now forms the basis of negotiating stance of governments representing more than half the world. Worth a look.



  75. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Brian – thanks for your response.

    I’ve shared your feelings on the lack of coherent strategy across the climate movement for many years – in the ’80s Greenpeace, FOE and others refused to help in our local fight against a plan for the largest coal fired power station in Europe at Fawley in Hampshire UK – we won, against all the odds, but no thanks to them. Since then, Greenpeace and other NGOs have opposed and obstructed the climate treaty framework of Contraction & Convergence (that is now widely adopted by governments) putting up a spurious unsaleable no-hoper alternative of ‘Greenhouse Development Rights’ which acts as a sink for dissenters, thus diminishing the movement’s effectiveness.

    I’d certainly welcome a common portal for climate action that is not under the control of any subscriber NGO, and that owes no allegiance to any political party. Its launch is long overdue. If it didn’t involve lugging unwanted baggage, I’d suggest a title of – but I think we can do better than that.

    For courtesy’s sake I’d suggest discussing this directly unless Joe actively endorses it – emails to me marked ‘please forward’ sent to the contact box at should be sent on to me.



  76. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    John – it’s good to see a clear exposition of the need for arctic albedo restoration here on CP.

    With both NGOs opposing it and scientific complacency claiming that it would be unnecessary even as a precaution, it seems ironic that there is veiled bipartisan political opposition as well. None of which reduces the cogency of the case you present.

    If and when you get news of Semiletov’s paper on last year’s ESAS observations, and anything on this year’s releases, I hope you’ll post them here as well as on AMEG.



  77. Lawrence says:

    Another option:
    GRLCowan has suggested this – we build a whole lot of IFRs. We use the energy to grind up Olivine to small particles (I can’t remember the size, I think 2.5 microns). We pump this up 5k into the prevailing winds. It stays up a week or so, and when it falls down it creates a high surface CO2 rock weathering layer. It pulls CO2 out of the air fast enough to pull down CO2, so long as we keep the process going for some decades. I don’t know whether Olivine aerosols would be a replacement for fossil fuel aerosols (to retain a global dimming effect).
    GRLCowan has referenced Prof Olaf Schuiling, who is conducting field tests for this idea.

  78. Brian R Smith says:

    Looking forward to it. I’ll be in touch in a few days.

  79. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The latest value : 3,819,219 km2 (August 30, 2012) IJIS. Still screaming down.

    There will be consequences.

  80. PixieDust says:

    “Winners” who settle in northern climates to till the remaining productive soils will soon succomb to invaders in search of the same. There can be no winner.

  81. Nan says:

    Would a billion-dollar prize to the team who discovers the fastest way to cool the Arctic work? Seems like it would be a worthwile investment for a few wealthy countries to invest in. There must be teams of brilliant thinkers who could develop such a plan.

    All the money and time being spent developing electronic gadgets could be focused on saving humanity.

  82. perceptiventity says:

    Thank you for the link. The updated graph is indeed stunning.