NASA: It Rained So Hard the Oceans Fell

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"NASA: It Rained So Hard the Oceans Fell"

by Barry Saxifrage, via the Vancouver Observer

“The year 2010 was one the worst years in world history for high-impact floods. But just three weeks into the new year, 2011 has already had an entire year’s worth of mega-floods. “ – Meteorologist Jeff Masters

I spend hours a day researching what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls “global weirding”: the destabilization of our weather system fueled by the three million tonnes of fossil fuel pollution we inject into it each hour. So it is a rare day when something shocks me as much as a recent U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) report on last year’s extreme rainfall.

As most locals know from soggy personal experience, our corner of planet Earth since last spring has been a bit wetter and greyer than normal. And next door, our Washington neighbours donned their gum boots and slogged through their fourth wettest year since 1895.

Still, we got off lucky.  Very lucky it turns out.

According to this jaw-dropping NASA report, worldwide rainfall and snowfall were so extreme, in so many places last year, that sea levels fell dramatically.

Sea levels have been rising steadily for over a century as the ever warmer ocean water expands and the world’s remaining glaciers and ice sheets melt. In fact sea levels are rising twice as fast now as they were a few decades ago. As the NASA chart above shows there have been some ups and downs but nothing in the modern satellite record comes close to the 6 mm drop worldwide last year.

While 6 mm might not sound like a lot, when collected from the surface of all our planet’s oceans it adds up to 26,000 gallons of water per human.

So just where did all this missing water go?

The ringleader of the great water heist was one of the strongest La Nina cycles of recent times. La Nina shifted and altered weather patterns causing extreme precipitation to funnel into places like India, Pakistan, Australia, and northern tiers of both South and North America.

In the map below, produced from NASA’s GRACE satellite data, blue indicates areas that gained water last year. The darkest blue areas gained as much as 50 mm in one year.

These dark blue spots are also the sources of the world’s epic floods of the last couple years which not only left tens of millions homeless and destroyed agriculture and infrastructure, but also left behind so much water that global oceans were depleted by 6 mm.

A YEAR OF RECORD FLOODING

Last year 182 floods affected 180 million people, almost double the annual average for the last decade. Here are a few:

One fifth of Pakistan under water displacing 20 million people after freak monsoon rains that wouldn’t stop.

140 million Chinese affected by weeks of record flooding and landslides.

“Biblical” flooding in Australia covers an area the size of France and Germany combined. Australia had its wettest spring since records began 111 years ago, with some areas suffering over 4 feet of rain. At one point freak rains of six inches fell in just 30 minutes. Another town got 14 inches in one day.

Unprecedented flooding on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. A series of record-breaking “Snowmageddon” storms left the winter snow pack in parts of Canada and USA at record levels. When it melted, a huge swath of middle USA flooded. Major General Michael Walsh of the US Army Corps of Engineers laments: “Everyone I have talked with–from boat operators, to labors, scientist and engineers, and truck drivers have all said the same thing–I never thought I would see the day that the river would reach these levels.”

Manitoba wallows in 300-year flood after rapid spring snow melt in combination with heavy rains drive Assiniboine River to record flood levels.

Tennessee has 1000-year deluge flooding Nashville. In just two days up to 15 inches of rain (420 billion gallons) fell from the sky.

North Carolina suffers 500-year rainfall when up to 19 inches fell in three days. This is its second 500-year rainfall in 11 years.

Monster hail. Seven US states broke their records for largest hail stones with South Dakota setting the all-time USA record at 8.0” in diameter that fell on July 23, 2010. It takes extremely high energy storms to create big hail.

Brazil’s worst single-day natural disaster in its history. Rio de Janeiro inundated by torrential rains causing multiple landslides and deaths in heavily populated areas. Up to 12 inches fell in just a few hours in parts of Brazil.

Bolivia pounded by torrential rains that caused landslides and widespread flooding.

Columbia hobbled by 11 months of nearly non-stop rain as five to six times more rainfall than usual inundates the nation. Millions of disaster victims and billions in damages. Colombia’s President: “the tragedy the country is going through has no precedents in our history.” Country Director in Colombia, Gabriela Bucher: “Some parts of the country have been set back 15 to 20 years.”

THE ROLE OF GLOBAL WARMING

Would these recent extreme events have happened without all our fossil fuel CO2 in the atmosphere? NASA’s top climatologist, James Hansen, says: “almost certainly not”.

Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains in Joe Romm’s must read Climate Progress blog:

“It’s not the right question to ask if this storm or that storm is due to global warming, or is it natural variability. Nowadays, there’s always an element of both there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. “

Meteorologist and former hurricane hunter Jeff Masters told Joe Romm:

“In my thirty years as a meteorologist, I’ve never seen global weather patterns as strange as those we had in 2010. The stunning extremes we witnessed gives me concern that our climate is showing the early signs of instability.”

Munich Re, one of the world’s top re-insurance companies, states:

“…it would seem that the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate changeGlobally, 2010 has been the warmest year since records began over 130 years ago, the ten warmest during that period all falling within the last 12 years. The warmer atmosphere and higher sea temperatures are having significant effects. Prof. Peter Hoeppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre: ‘It’s as if the weather machine had changed up a gear. Unless binding carbon reduction targets stay on the agenda, future generations will bear the consequences.’”

As the Economist magazine recently summed up when talking about how some climate changes are happening much quicker than the worst case predicted by climate models:

“When reality is changing faster than theory suggests it should, a certain amount of nervousness is a reasonable response.

Craig Fugate, head of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, put it bluntly,

“The term ’100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.”

NOW WHAT?

Well in the short term the seas will start rising again. As the NASA report states:

“water flows downhill, and the extra rain will eventually find its way back to the sea. When it does, global sea level will rise again. ‘We’re heating up the planet, and in the end that means more sea level rise’”.

What happens in the medium and long term depends on us. We humans really have only one question to answer: To burn or not to burn?

OPTION A: Leave most fossil fuels in the ground — forever.

OPTION B: Keep doing what we are doing and dig up every last crumb of carbon and burn it.

The climate science is clear that we cannot burn most of the fossil fuels we already know about and also have a stable enough weather system that we can continue to prosper.

As local Nobel laureate and world famous climate scientist, Andrew Weaver, explained in a talk at UBC the other night, just reducing the rate at which we burn fossil fuels won’t prevent dangerous levels of climate change beyond 2C warming. Instead we must totally eliminate fossil fuel emissions.

Weaver showed that even if humanity cut 90% of our fossil fuel use by 2050 but kept burning that last 10% into the future, then we would still heat the climate by more than 2C. That sends us into the realm of dangerous and dramatic climate changes that Canada, USA and every major nation has stated clearly we must avoid.

As Weaver summed it up:

“At some point we just have to say stop.”

In Canada that means forcing our governments to take responsibility for leaving most of our fossil fuels reserves – like BC coal, Alberta oil sands, frackable natural gas — in the ground forever. It also means transitioning our own lives and businesses off of fossil fuel burning completely.

What we are doing right now — our current path – is to burn it all. We have absolutely no limits, and none planned, for any of our nation’s fossil fuel resources. Weaver was asked to summarize the current climate policies of our federal government. He responded: “This will be quick. There aren’t any.” Instead we are heading full tilt towards ever “weirder” and ever more extreme weather.

Meteorologist Masters:

“I suspect that crazy weather years like 2010 will become the norm a decade from now, as the climate continues to adjust to the steady build-up of heat-trapping gases we are pumping into the air. Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame. We’ve bequeathed to our children a future with a radically changed climate that will regularly bring unprecedented weather events–many of them extremely destructive–to every corner of the globe. This year’s wild ride was just the beginning.

Hansen, an expert on the climate of both Earth and Venus, has a starker warning for us. In the face of continued political inaction to stop the climate threat, he decided to calculate what it would take for Earth’s climate to repeat what happened on our sister planet Venus – a runaway greenhouse effect that would boil away the oceans and destroy all life on the planet:

“I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and the tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty. “

Our Canadian government is currently using our tax dollars to market an aggressive expansion of the tar sands under the banner of “ethical oil”.

Hansen got arrested along with more than 1,200 others protesting this very attempt to expand production of the unconventional tar sands deposits for global markets saying:

it is probably feasible to avoid dangerous climate tipping points, but only if conventional fossil fuel emissions are phased down rapidly and unconventional fossil fuel are left in the ground. If governments allow infrastructure for unconventional fossil fuel to be developed, either they don’t ‘get it’ or they simply do not care about the future of young people.”

Repeatedly he has stated that if we fully exploit our unconventional tar sands it means game over for hopes of avoiding dangerous climate change.

At this point the climate science is clear that the only truly “ethical oil” is the oil we leave in the ground forever.

– Barry Saxifrage researches, charts and writes about the latest climate change information for the Vancouver Observer and other publications. Much of his work can be found on his website, Visual Carbon.

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78 Responses to NASA: It Rained So Hard the Oceans Fell

  1. BA says:

    I think this vindicates the unknown, unknowns question.

  2. David Smith says:

    Ethical oil, being anything but, should be answered by a “Death By the Gallon” campaign.

  3. Ed Hummel says:

    It’s good to see that someone is talking reality in a major news outlet, even if it is only in Vancouver, BC. It’ll be interesting to see how many papers in the US pick up this story.

  4. Leif says:

    All a hoax. God was thirsty. Ask any GOP…

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    I heard about this (the drop in sea levels) from a relative of mine, a couple days ago, who read about it in one of those denier-tilted “gotcha” stories: “I thought the global warming folks said that sea levels are rising and will continue to rise; well what about this? (gotcha!).”

    Their news media and political e-mail network are FAST, I’ll say that much for ‘em.

    The short-term fluctuations and hard-to-predict things that surround the long-term trends make it — and will continue to make it — very very difficult, if not impossible, to explain climate change convincingly to many folks, especially to those who don’t want to be convinced and don’t want their constituents to be convinced. This is just one more, of several reasons why we’ll have to do much more than we’re presently doing to bring about responsible societal change. This is also why it’s crucial that leaders like President Obama, and especially him, make responsible decisions that send clear signals.

    Can you imagine three months from now, if Obama approves Keystone XL: “Hey guys, the sea level is dropping, it’s another very snowy winter, it feels darn cold out to me, you know what happened to Solyndra, and your own President, Obama, approved Keystone XL. Now WHAT, again, are you trying to convince me about climate change? Sorry, I’m too busy, I have a football game to watch.” That is the sort of “argument” that we’ll be facing.

    Jeff

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Yep, makes you wish all those tax cuts had been spent on some basic science in primary and secondary school, ME

  6. Joan Savage says:

    From the graph, there have been previous periods 6 mm shifts (all upward) within one year time frames.
    What makes this condition doubly notable is that it is both the first downward 6 mm in the data set and one of the few instances in which the sea level did not regress toward the trend line well within a year.

    This raises the question of where is the present location of the water from the March 2010-March 2011 precipitation?

    It is also notable that so much water fell, yet some areas are still in exceptional drought.

  7. dick smith says:

    Thanks for this excellent article–and for that brilliant teaser (it rained so hard the oceans fell).

  8. Ken says:

    Great article. While it seems like we make no progress with averting climate change, we are closer to actually doing something to stop fossil fuels today than we were a few years ago. The steady dissemintation of factual information in articles like this prepares the way for the adoption of new technologies. We may not act in time to avert a climate catastrophe like the WAIS melting, but information like in this article will prepare the way for action when the catastrophe arrives.

  9. Paul Magnus says:

    “Forty years from now, the crazy weather of 2010 will seem pretty tame.”

    We are getting cray weather regularly now. The really crazy weather seems to be coming on a 3-7ry cycle and is ramping up with each occurrence. So I dont think we have to wait 40yrs.

    The next global temp peak will probably come within the next few years as the sun spot cycle ramps up on top of the increased emissions.

    In fact we might see a run of 2010 peaks in a row with the resultant chaos we saw also occurring over this period.

  10. Colorado Bob says:

    Monster hail. Seven US states broke their records for largest hail stones with South Dakota setting the all-time USA record at 8.0” in diameter that fell on July 23, 2010. It takes extremely high energy storms to create big hail.

    I have followed this a bit closer this year, and there are more, and more reports, of what I call baseball storms. With cloud tops of over 60,000 feet.

    A 1-centimeter hailstone is estimated to fall at a speed of 9 meters per second, or 20 mph, but a hailstone of 8 centimeters falls at about 48 meters per second, or about 107 mph, faster than a Major League Baseball pitcher’s fastest pitch.

    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2011/09/30/20110930science-of-hail-arizona-storm.html#ixzz1ZerdkVtE

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Some of that precipitation will go to replenish ground water. Of course most will return to the oceans.

    • Barry says:

      “Some of that precipitation will go to replenish ground water. Of course most will return to the oceans.”

      In some areas, yes. Those record-intensity rainfalls will go straight back into the ocean.

    • Also much of this water will be “recycled” into amped up local rainfall. Trenberth estimates 30% of rainfall in larger storms systems — especially in tropics and in higher-latitude summer — comes from local evaporation. Climate change deluges are the gift that keep giving.

  12. nyc-tornado10 says:

    in late july, eastern most new york city and nearby nassau county had baseball size hail. A co-worker of mine had several thousand dollars in damage, from bent awnings, broken glass, and damage to his car’s panels. I never remember the new york area getting baseball sized hail, i wonder if this was a first.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr82HdeTHZQ&feature=related

    about the sea level falling because of all of the extreme rain events. Former accu-weather meteorologist and AGW denier joe bastardi predicted in 2010 that the arctic sea ice would recover this year to 2005 levels, he was of course wrong, this year was a statistical tie with 2007 for area coverage, and a new record low for sea ice volume. If denier joe had instead predicted that global sea level would start falling, he would have been correct, but for the wrong reason!

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Someone ought to compare the first graph to ENSO.

  14. Colorado Bob says:

    Officials have warned Filipinos to brace against the inconvenient truth of devastating storms, flooding and drought unless policies and projects are put in place to mitigate climate change.

    Undersecretary Graciano Yumul of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said that in the next 20 to 50 years, the Philippines would find “the dry seasons drier and the wet seasons wetter.”

    “With the climate change scenario, we will see more of this as a frequent reality,” Yumul said in an interview. “What we used to consider as abnormal we should now consider as normal,” he noted.

    http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/69281/climate-change-blamed-for-storms-flooding-drought

  15. Colorado Bob says:

    Scores die in worst Mekong flooding since 2000

    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – At least 150 people in Cambodia and southern Vietnam have died in the worst flooding along the Mekong River in 11 years after heavy rain swamped homes, washed away bridges and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

    Worse could be in store if Typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 39 people in China this week and plowed into northern Vietnam on Friday, dumps rain deep enough inland to further swell the Mekong.

    http://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE78T14T20110930?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

  16. sault says:

    Good article, but I have to disagree with Dr. Hansen that even if we burnt up most conventional and unconventional fossil fuels, the Earth would be hit with “Venus Syndrome”. Now, I do agree that continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere by any means necessary is extremely dangerous and that Dr. Hansen knows better than anybody else about tipping points in the climate and what happens if we go past them.

    However, using the phrase “Venus Syndrome” is a little confusing. Does he mean that the Earth’s atmosphere would eventually become 96% CO2, causing a similarly hellish, but not quite so hot, environment as seen on Venus? In the short term, this is not possible unless something unforeseen happens to remove a significant portion of the water from the surface of the Earth. The runaway greenhouse on Venus was brought about because it was too hot for liquid water to form, dissolve CO2, and then lock it up into carbonate rocks. Even during the periods of highest CO2 concentration in Earth’s past, the temperatures were nowhere near the level to prevent significant amounts of liquid water on the Earth’s surface.

    Now if Dr. Hansen was just referring to dangerous climate change brought about by humans tipping the climate system out of balance, then I’m in total agreement there. I guess “Venus Syndrome” has a greater psychological impact, though. But when the top climate expert in the U.S. uses words like this, the deniers will twist his meaning to their ends and fail to understand what he was trying to say. That it is physically impossible for Earth to suffer even “Venus Lite” conditions in this geologic era will prompt the deniers to hold up Dr. Hansen’s words as an example of how flawed ALL climate scientists are as well as the climate science they produce.

    I get the fact that we need better messaging on this issue, but Dr. Hansen is not moving in the right direction with this comment.

    • Bill G says:

      In his book, “Storms of My Grandchildren” Hansen says clearly that if we follow a “business as usual” approach to CO2 emissions, the earth will eventually become another Venus – temperature something like 450F. Oceans will evaporate and there will be no life. Where this word “syndrome” came into his lingo I’m not sure. Maybe he is retreating a bit from the previous extreme scenario.

      James Lovelock, UK’s Royal Society eminent climate scientist believes earth will be habitable only in certain northern countries and polar regions. I like his prediction better for obvious reasons.

      Does anyone believe man will curb CO2 when there is a buck to be made?

      Neither do I – so why are we not planning for failure to curb CO2 and the chaos that will bring down on mankind? Will we get caught flat-footed again as we were with escalating global warming?

    • MightyDrunken says:

      The “runaway” greenhouse of Venus was initially caused by huge amounts of water vapour due to a high temperature. The after-effects were a very high level of CO2, not necessarily the cause. Without water CO2 is not washed out of the atmosphere and eventually plate tectonics stopped.

      Therefore I assume Hansen means that if we burnt all the fossil fuels we would enter into a similar scenario with the eventual outcome being no liquid water on Earth. This may be possible as the Sun is at least 30% stronger now than when the Earth formed.

      If he is correct or not I do not know.

    • BA says:

      Read Storms of My Grandchildren. Part of the equation is that a lot more carbon has been sequestered in soils and the seafloor than anytime in the past so if we tip off a run away warming scenario it will cause the atmosphere to heat up enough to evaporate all the water vapor.

      The one thing I did not like about Hanson’s book was his position on Nuclear power. I do not think he did the do diligence in presenting a sound, factual argument and instead resorted to hear say. The reason he sees the need for nukes is base power—how do we get it from solar/wind. The problem here as I see it is that this argument automatically assumes, I think, that we have to keep consuming energy around where we are consuming it now. I think that is wrong. The world, even the US does not have to be lit up like a Christmas Tree 24/7. We need economies of scale. Read Wendell Barry’s book What Matters.

    • One thing many people don’t know about James Hansen is that he was first an expert on the climate of Venus at NASA. He switched to Earth climate when it became clear we were changing our climate in some similar ways. Venus used to have water, but as the sun got hotter, more and more evaporated creating at some point a runaway greenhouse effect. Eventually all the water was broken down by sunlight and the hydrogen lost to space. That is why there isn’t any water in the atmosphere there anymore.

      Finally, Hansen doesn’t just think it is just “possible” we could set off a similar runaway greenhouse effect here…he says it is a “dead certainty” if we burn all the fossil carbon we can get at. Coming from a world expert on both planets’ paleoclimates, I’d say that is reason to at least read his argument before dismissing.

      • Raul M. says:

        Thanks, I didn’t get the main point from only reading some say that I should get the book.
        Thanks again.

        • Ken says:

          Hansen’s original statement about a “Venus Syndrome” was in “Where Should Humanity Aim” im Open Atmos. Sci Journal, the supplementary material section 2. CLIMATE FORCINGS AND CLIMATE FEEDBACKS. Section 2 is a discussion and derivation of a mathematical formula showing how climate sensitivity increases exponentially with the strength of the forcings (aka feedback loops). To get to a venus like result you do not need to saturate the atmosphere with CO2. You just need to have the atmosphere become unstable as the forcings increase high enough to become self sustaining without any further CO2 increase. Hansen also discusses slushball earth, th eobverse of the Venus Syndrome, a state in which the earth existed some 650 million years ago.

          Here is the reference. Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Pagani, M. Raymo, D.L. Royer, and J.C. Zachos, 2008: Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231, doi:10.2174/1874282300802010217.

          Here is a quote from the article “If all
          conventional and unconventional fossil fuels were burned, with the CO2 emitted to the atmosphere, it is possible that a runaway
          greenhouse effect could occur, with incineration of life and creation of a permanent Venus-like hothouse Earth.”

      • BA says:

        Uh…I don’t know if you think I was dismissing Hanson or you were talking to someone else but I was not dismissing Hanson. I believe Hanson totally about the potential for a Venus syndrome. That makes sense and I think if anyone should know it would be him.

        However, I did as an aside say that I thought his arguments in the book, Storms of My Grandchildren, in favor of nuclear power were not very good. To me after making a very comprehensive argument about climate change and the need to act at once I thought his rational in favor of nuclear power was weak. I am not in favor of nuclear power as I think it is making more dangerous messes to haunt us later and is a mistake.

  17. Bill G says:

    Isn’t Meteorologist Jeff Masters a famous Global Warming Denier?!

    • Colorado Bob says:

      Bill G -
      No he’s not.

    • Joe Romm says:

      No. Not even close.

    • I’ve been reading Master’s blog for a few years now. I’d say he always respected the science but didn’t used to show as much concern about the scale and pacing of the problem. The comment section was also full of “its not that bad” kinda stuff. But the extreme weather events of the last couple years has led to him becoming one of the very best sources of climate data and messaging. He has done a huge service by being one of the first prominent meteorologists to speak clearly and forcefully around the climate science.

      • John Mason says:

        I concur with Bob, Joe & Barry: Masters tells it as it is – I’ve never seen the slightest hint that he is anything but on the case WRT what we understand about how we are affecting Earth’s climate.

        Cheers – John

  18. C. Vink says:

    Mean ocean level 6mm down is an awful lot. One should do some math on the total amount of precipation during the past year. Does it match reasonably?

    And it seems strange to me that this effect (i.e. such extreme bias off the trend) is not predicted by the climate models – or is it?.

    In my opinion, the mainly qualitative approach – or have I missed something? – of this article doesn’t suffice to counter legitimate questions. I hope to read more on this at Climate Progress.

    • Rob Painting says:

      Sea level rose by about 20mm during the extreme El Nino of 1997-1998. But that was only temporary too.

      In a nutshell the short-term El Nino/La Nina sea level fluctuations are primarily due to the exchange of water mass between the ocean and land surface.

      See argument 171 at Skeptical Science.

      • C. Vink says:

        Thanks for the link. It also says: ‘It will take some time for studies about these episodes to appear in the scientific literature, so how the recent spate of massive floods stack up in a historical context is as yet unknown.’ So maybe more quantifying will be done. And of course we’ll see if and when the ocean levels pick up the trend again (which I personally have few doubts about).

        • Rob Painting says:

          C Vink – it appears another La Nina is settling in, so sea level is unlikely to climb until we reach a neutral period, or an El Nino. In the meantime there could be a lot more rainfall occurring over land – i.e. extreme flooding.

          This short-term fluctuation does not affect the long-term warming of the oceans (causing thermal expansion), and of melting land ice, which raises long-term sea level.

          We could end up with one heck of a “pothole” in the interim though.

          You are, of course, free to doubt whatever you choose, but the Earth will just respond as the physics dictate it must.

          • C. Vink says:

            I apologize for my less than mediocre English. By: ‘which I personally have few doubts about’, I meant to say that ‘I personally hardly doubt that’ sea levels will be rising up to the predicted trend again in a couple of years). Thanks for your addition.

  19. Colorado Bob says:

    The tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu has declared a state of emergency because of a severe shortage of fresh water………. Mr Pefe said it had not rained properly in Tuvalu for more than six months and meteorologists were forecasting the lack of rain would continue until December.

    Tuvalu normally expects to get 200 mm to 400 mm of rainfall per month.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15147043

    • Rob Painting says:

      C Vink – “I meant to say that ‘I personally hardly doubt that’ sea levels will be rising up”

      Yes. That was obvious.

      Here’s a simple explanation of why long- term sea level will continue to expand:

      By adding CO2 to the atmosphere, humans have altered the greenhouse gas forcing of the ocean cool-skin layer – reducing the cool-skin layer gradient lowers heat escaping from the ocean to the cooler atmosphere above. This allows the oceans to steadily build up heat, and because CO2 persists in the atmosphere for thousands of years – the oceans will also accumulate heat for thousands of years.

      We know from past observations of the last great CO2-induced warming, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, that the deep oceans and polar seas underwent marked warming. In the Pliocene warming some 4 million years ago , atmospheric CO2 was similar to now – about 400ppm. Sea levels ended up about 25 metres higher than now.

      So the expectation of further sea level rise is based upon past sea level rise, observations of current ocean warming, long-term sea level rise, land ice melt, and physics-based numerical and climate modeling.

      What scientific basis is your “doubt” based upon?

      • C. Vink says:

        That’s not a mystery: climate science itself is leaving room for a – very small – chance that things will work out in a – very – different way than is probable according to the best models. And, of course, science itself is in principle not about dead certainties, but – sometimes very plausible / probable – hypotheses.
        To be honest, you seem a bit overly dogmatic, in my opinion, but our language gap may contribute to some misunderstanding or slight irritations.
        Let me put it his way: to my mind, there is a _very slight chance_ that earth has some tricks in mind leading to a some kind of drastic change of the climate change predicted by the best models, for example concerning sea level rise. But a. I’m utterly convinced that this chance is very small and b. the ‘unexpected change’ that would occur in that case, would almost certainly spell hardly less trouble for nature and mankind. Bottom line is that to my mind ending the use of fossil fuels and embracing clean energy is, I guess, as urgent as to yours.

        • C. Vink says:

          Sorry, struggling with the language and my keyboard…

          …Let me put it this way: to my mind, there is a _very slight chance_ that earth has some tricks in mind leading to some kind of surprisingly different changes than predicted by the best models, for example concerning sea level rise…

  20. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    The Grace graphic seems astonishing in its tight localisation of extreme anomalies – for instance, look at the proximity of an area of extreme drought central in the Amazon forest to that of extreme rain nearer the north coast, and that in central US to the inundation further north.

    It’s hard to compare overall areas due to the cartography – which greatly stretches polar regions of course – but in crude numbers I’d guess 15% of land area is strongly blue, and 10% is strongly red, with the rest balancing to near average.

    This does imply a net global rise of water on land, but this accounts for only a tiny fraction of the water missing from the sea. Consider, with the sea seven times the area of the land, it 6mm loss would imply a 42mm increase on land if it had all fallen there. Instead, the Grace plot shows perhaps one or two millimetres extra on average across the land.

    So – short of the planet having developed a leak that has taken around 800GT water into the earth’s crust, that 6mm of seawater is presumably now aloft as vapour. Can anyone say what percentage increase that additional water vapour would represent ?

    Regards,

    Lewis

    • Colorado Bob says:

      Lewis -
      The added water vapor in the atmosphere is clearly around. 71 inches of rain in Japan last month. Or Chattanooga at the same time.

      Chattanooga :
      Most Rain in 24 Hours 9.69″ September 5-6, 2011

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        Bob -

        This from wikipedia gives some numbers:

        “Water depleted by precipitation is replenished by evaporation from the seas, lakes, rivers and the transpiration of plants, and other biological and geological processes. The annual mean global concentration of water vapor would yield about 25 mm of liquid water over the entire surface of the Earth if it were to instantly fall as rain. The mean annual precipitation for the planet is about 1 meter, which indicates a rapid turnover of water in the air – on average, the residence time of a water vapor molecule in the troposphere is about 9 to 10 days.”

        If the Grace plot showed even 1mm of the 6mm of missing seawater to be on the land (which seems a very generous guess) that leaves 5mm now airborne as vapour, on top of the 25mm normal mean: i.e around a 20% increase in water vapour in a year.

        Notably this 20% rise doesn’t include either the oceans’ ongoing thermal expansion or the additional water output of reportedly ongoing annual cryosphere decline.

        Even just a 20% water vapour increase is radically different to the predicted 4% per degree C of warming. The La Nina event has been strong, but surely not strong enough ? Do you know where to look for an explanation ?

        Regards,

        Lewis

        • C. Vink says:

          Thanks for your thought-provoking sketchy take on this issue, Lewis. Same goes for Jon Warren Lentz October 3, 2011 at 12:33 pm (below). This is the kind of stuff that I – as a curious layperson – had in mind in my post C. Vink October 3, 2011 at 4:31 am (above).

          I’m sure Joe Romm wil keep us informed when (more) studies about the water vapour – ocean level – global temperature connections are being published.

    • Rob Painting says:

      Lewis Cleverdon – given that the atmospheric residence time of water vapor is 9-10 days, your assertion is somewhat ridiculous.

      Has it not occurred to you that your calculation is wrong?

      • Lewis Cleverdon says:

        Rob – it certainly has, which is why I’ve been checking the Grace plot’s implied sum of water retention on land with time and care. What is needed of course is the hard data from the satellite. Were that data to refute my assessment that there is a degree of conflict between satellite observation and theory, I’d be happy to stand corrected.
        Until then, I’m puzzled as to what is happening, for I see no recognized mechanism for the planet suddenly raising its water vapour level to the implied degree.

        Regards,

        Lewis

        • Rob Painting says:

          Lewis C – as I pointed out over at SkS, La Nina is when the global surface temperature cools and we therefore get a decline in atmospheric water vapor. El Nino – when ocean heat finds it’s way to the surface and warms the overlying air, is when global atmospheric water vapor increases. See Trenberth & Smith (2005)

          In other words you have that exactly back-to-front – aside from your suggestion being preposterous.

          8mm sea level variations during ENSO events is not uncommon. See Llovell (2010) is cited in my post at SkS. Indeed we saw a 20mm temporary rise in sea level during the super El Nino of 1997-1998.

          I’m awaiting a response as to when (if) the JPL data will appear in the peer-reviewed literature.

          • Lewis Cleverdon says:

            Rob – sorry you got the impression I was unaware of the difference in vapour generation off El Nino and La Nina – they taught us that back in the ’70s, when the ‘El Nino cycle’ was still considered to be a pretty regular 4-year affair. The fact that vapour generation generally falls under La Nina only adds to my puzzlement over the Grace plot deficient-anomaly implications.

            My surmise, which I continue properly to hedge around with qualifications, relates to the simple fact that science cannot have perfect knowledge of the responses of the hydrocycle under marine, atmospheric and terrestrial conditions that are historically unprecedented. The assumption that perfect knowledge existed would, of course, be antithetical to scientific enquiry.

            By the way I can’t find the 20mm SLR for ’97/98 that you’ve referred to – there is one shown on the satelite SLR graphs above and at SkS of about 11.5mm for that period – which of course includes the 3.2mm of trend rise, and so indicates an ‘other sources’ gain of around 8.3mm. Is that the rise you meant ?

            Regards,

            Lewis

          • Rob Painting says:

            Lewis C “sorry you got the impression I was unaware of the difference in vapour generation off El Nino and La Nina”

            And yet your previous comment demonstrated ignorance of this well-established fact. The vapor holding capacity of the atmosphere is dependent upon the temperature of the air. If the global surface temperature and lower troposphere indicate cooling over the period in question, how then can it support the “missing” sea level?

            The most likely explanation is that your eyecrometer guesstimates and subsequent back-of-the-envelope calculations are wrong. Why you haven’t quite cottoned on to this is the greater mystery.

            I’ll post an update the the SkS rebuttal when the data is available.

            And the 20mm sea level rise was addressed in Nerem 1999:

            “During the 1997–1998 ENSO event, a 20 mm rise, and subsequent fall, of mean sea level was observed.”

            Research since that study has shown the exchange of water is mass is the main cause of SLR fluctuations during ENSO – as indicated by the article from the scientists at NASA JPL.

  21. Raul M. says:

    Does water vapor really have an upper limit in the atmosphere?
    Are vapor clouds over the poles quantified by volume of water that has reached the stratosphere?
    Seems there is enough there to notice but how much is that?
    Just thinking.

    • Colorado Bob says:

      Does water vapor really have an upper limit in the atmosphere?

      We’re running that experiment now.

      • Raul M. says:

        Thanks, I thought it was still up in the air, so to speak.

        • John Mason says:

          4% extra per degree C of warming or 7% extra per degree F – it depends if you like old or new money! Bear in mind that these figures need not have much relevance to global temperatures but are more specific to regional anomalies. They actually bear out the old bit of weather-lore, “it’s too cold to snow”: extreme cold is often brought about by the radiative cooling that occurs overnight during cold but very dry anticyclonic conditions – especially where there are pre-existing snowfields.

          Cheers – John

  22. Raul M. says:

    I think also that a warmer troposphere would allow water vapor to travel higher in the atmosphere (higher than the usuall for particulates) before reaching condensation temperatures but finding less condensation particulates?

  23. Eric says:

    I often wonder why we feel the only thing we can do is preventative. Of course ideally we would shut down every high emissions plant and hope the earth accepted our most significant of sacrifices, but more realistically, humans need to brace for the next 100 years by being intelligent. Move in land, make areas of repeated disasters less occupied, etc. We can’t continually be the victims, and must instead accept that quality of life is in decline, sea levels are on the rise, and thus cope appropriately rather than simply fall victim each and every time.

    • Lewis Cleverdon says:

      How is it more ‘realistic’ to try to adapt to intensifying destabilization of the planet’s climate and a terminal decline of food supplies ?

      Either we halt the GHG emissions and the warming already in the pipeline, and recover the excess carbon from the atmosphere, or the interactive feedback outputs will grow to dwarf our pollution to date and, as Lovelock observed, the last few breeding pairs of humans will eke out their time before extinction somewhere in the far north.

      This is not to say that industrialized nations shouldn’t honour their liability to assist nations impacted by the climate outcomes of the industrial pollution already aloft. Far from it. We should already be honouring those liabilities.

      Regards,

      Lewis

  24. Jim says:

    Where does all that water end up, does it not flow back to the oceans? Either that or it evaporates.

  25. Jim says:

    A recent paper was published in the “American Economic Review” concerning the total economic cost of coal verses it total value.

    The “American Economic Review” in one of America’s most prestigious CONSERVATIVE academic journals in economics.

    http://www.aeaweb.org/AboutAEA/gen_info.php

    According to them coal is a “Net Value Subtracting Industry.” They measure what they call economic “Gross External Damages, (GEDs) for various industries.” It is the cost of the environmental effects of industries.

    The cost estimates used in their study are very conservative and do not even include the cost of the CO2 emissions from the coal industry.

    They conclude that the GED of the coal industry cost so much in environmental damages that the total value of the industry is worth less than the cost of the damages to society in the form of respiratory disease, pollution clean up, etc. Again they did not even consider the cost of the CO2 emissions of the coal industry. Coal is so much of what they call a “Net Values Subtracting Industry” that coals GED (Gross External Damages Cost) is more than the totals of its three closest competitors COMBINED, over 53 BILLION a year.

    You can get a copy of the actual article below:

    http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.101.5.1649

    A brief summary of the article is at the link below:

    http://www.grist.org/coal/2011-09-30-coal-is-enemy-of-human-race-mainstream-economics-edition

    I am totally amazed at how our politicians purposely ignore the effects of fossil fuel industries not just the American society but the planet in general, just so those industries can profit and give those same politicians money.

    Climate change has increasingly been manifesting itself over the past few decades in the form of increasingly frequent severe weather events and all they want to do is cut FEMA funds instead of addressing the causes. I can not wait until someone publishes a study of the projected cost of these ever increasing severe weather events.

    I heard an interesting radio program this morning about the water situation here in Texas this morning, if texas does not spend a projected 58 BILLION to deal with water shortages over the next few decades the state will suffer from water shortages that will threaten the entire economy of the state. The water shortages are being cause by climate change that is making Texas hotter and dryer each year. Yet all Texas politicians want to do is defund and eliminate the EPA and protect the interest of big coal and big oil. I am convinced that the only way America can fight these entrenched interest is by removing every one in congress and starting over again. I mean the planet is slowly being murdered and if nothing changes very soon so will very large segments of the planets population.

    Read how Jeremy Rifkin responded to a question about NASA Scientist Jim Hansons warnings about the effects of CO2 being at the current level of 370 part per million. (Hansons ice core studies revealed that the earth has never been above 300 part per million in the past 650,000 years)

    On the climate side, do you agree with [NASA scientist] Jim Hanson? I mean, he uses the term ‘game over’ as well as he’s fighting the Keystone pipeline and the tar sands.

    Well I think Jim Hanson’s absolutely on the right track. My mistake was I kept underestimating the speed of this, the acceleration of climate change, because I couldn’t anticipate, couldn’t get my mind around all this subtle feedback in this pretty complex system we live in, this biosphere. The feedback loops are terrifying. So when we went to [the UN Climate Change Conference 2009] Copenhagen, we went there and we said, “Look, we want to talk the countries in the world into mitigating at 450 parts per million carbon by 2050. To do that, we go up two degrees, which is devastating. I mean, 2 degrees is really devastating, but we might survive it. But then Jim Hanson really threw us a curve and he said, “You’ve got your numbers wrong.” He and his scientific team looked at the geological record and said we have never been over 300 parts per million in 650,000 years” — which we all knew — “We’re now at 370. If we go to 450 ppm the record shows we go up 6 degrees and this is the end of civilization as we have come to know it.”

    What I believe is that we are really in trouble. I think we haven’t even begun to anticipate all these new feedback loops like the Siberian permafrost melt. And we know in agriculture we’ve got big trouble around the world. The biggest problem, and I wish Al Gore and others would mention this, I don’t think he did in his film, it’s all about the water cycle. For every one degree Celsius the temperature rises, the atmosphere discharges 7 percent more precipitation. That’s a frightening thing. That means more floods, more droughts, the change of the whole water cycle affects everything. Snow melts in the mountains to seawater, that is something so dramatic it takes my breath away. I think that we are in a difficult moment right now, probably the most difficult we have faced since we have been on the planet. In the short run, we are at the end game for the fossil fuel age. We could go to tar sands, heavy oil, and coal, which would up the CO2 even quicker, which means more losses in agriculture and infrastructure and everything that goes with that. (That’s why this tar-sands pipeline is an ominous sign.) Or we can begin to phase into a post-carbon era quickly. If there’s any positive sign here, it’s this: There have been other moments in history where economic eras collapse because there was no alternative option on the horizon. As you know in the book, the point I try to make, which I think is a new point, is that the major economic revolutions in history appear when the new energy regimes emerge. And when they emerge, they make possible more complex, integrated social and economical arrangements and more specialized scales and more complicated societies. When energy and communications revolutions converge you are really changing history because they narrow temporal-spatial orientation allowing you to socialize and engage in trade over bigger areas.

    Rifkin was hired by the city of San Antonio a few years ago in an effort by the city to put together a sustainability plan. You can read Rifkins entire interview at the link below:

    http://sacurrent.com/news/jeremy-rifkin-on-san-antonio-the-european-union-and-the-lessons-learned-in-our-push-for-a-planetary-scale-power-shift-1.1210146

    One book that many claim is credited to helping to start the idea and the resulting global awareness of climate change and sustainability efforts is called “The Limits to Growth.” It was originally written in the very early 1970s. It was updated and republished in 2004 as the 30 year update. The 40 year update is due out soon.

    Take a look at their web site below:

    http://limitstogrowth.net/

  26. Jon Warren Lentz says:

    OK. Here’s the deal about this. What is unnerving is that, while scientists predicted, accurately, that a warming planet would of course mean an increase in the amount of moisture in the air, or humidity. What they were unable to predict, however, is that this increase in humidity would be so massive that a measurable drop in sea level would result. This means several things: (1) climate catastrophe is moving much FASTER than was predictable, (2) the rise in sea level due to planetary ice melt from all sources is somewhat offset, at least for now, by the take up of humidity by the atmosphere and (3) that massive ocean of moisture in the atmosphere has become a part of all future weather systems (counting in centuries), meaning that anywhere on earth is a likely candidate for catastrophic flooding. Anywhere; because when that much water comes down, high ground is more-or-less theoretical. (4) Nomad is an island.

  27. Colorado Bob says:

    Taiwan -

    Statistics from the Central Weather Bureau showed the bureau’s observation station in -Nioudou (牛鬥), Yilan County, had registered the highest rain accumulation, with 1,604mm falling since -Saturday. This was followed by the observation stations in Gulu (古魯) and Dongao (東澳), both in Yilan, with accumulated rainfall reaching 1,578mm and 928mm respectively.

    The DGH said Nioudou had received more than 1,000mm on Sunday, but heavy rainfall did not occur on the Suhua Highway until yesterday.

    The DGH closed the section between Suao (蘇澳) and Dongao (東澳) on the Suhua Highway at 8am. By 12pm, accumulated rainfall in this section had already surpassed 640mm.

    The highest hourly rainfall hit 100mm within two hours after the section was closed. The bureau said rain was expected to ease today, with chances of showers remaining high in northern regions.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2011/10/04/2003514892

  28. David B. Benson says:

    Data so far shows on global increase (or decrease) in annual av erage precipitation. What has been found is an increase in mid and high latitude precipition, offset by a decrease in semitropical and tropical precipitation. These are based on about 28 years of satellite data.

    That does not imply that those trends will continue.

  29. Rodrigo says:

    Hi there,

    I’d like to point out that the flood in RIO DE JANEIRO, BRASIL taken place in a part of Brazil (southwest) that had LOST water, accordingly the GRACE map.

    The parts of Brazil that gained water are on Amazonia, 5000 miles away.

    • Yes, flooding and drought often go together. With Rio there wasn’t anywhere for the flooding to pool on the land before going back to the sea.

      In the article I was trying to do two things…give people a feel for the extreme nature of the flooding events last year while also using the GRACE map to highlight which flooding events ended up leaving water behind.

      The fact that Rio floods didn’t even count in the sea level drop, makes that sea level drop all the more remarkable to me.

  30. Aaron Lewis says:

    None of the climate models include carbon feedbacks, so it may well be that all we need to get to a Venus Syndrome is enough oceanic warming to start the large-scale decomposition of sea floor clathrates. That would release large amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

    This is one of those known-unknowns. We know that sea floor methane is being released in the Arctic. However, we do not know much about the timing, effects, and impacts of release of sea floor methane.

    • Methane clathrates melting is indeed the primary source of tipping point carbon in Hansen’s Venus scenario.

      As he says the methane “gun” has gone off repeated in the past. The trouble is that it is now fully loaded because we have had such a long period without extreme warmth. When the methane “gun” does go off next time it is going to be a biggie.

      But his climate data also argues that it alone isn’t enough for Venus repeat. It would also require we pump a lot more fossil fuel CO2 into the air to get to a run-away climate feedback.

  31. Rita says:

    If the polar ice is melting and the sea ought to be rising, but instead it is sinking, and the land rain does not equal the lost sea water–is it now evaporating off into outer space at an amazing rate? already? I hope some scientist will measure this, and if it proves what it looks like, it should make the headlines of every newspaper and every radio and TV newscast and the world should just stop pumping fossil fuels into our air. Fossil fuel extraction/use (or political promotion of such) should be a criminal offense, and we should start planting trees as fast as we possibly can, and cherishing our oceans for the sequestering of carbon done by the ocean flora. When ice caps melt, methane can get released when the permafrost melts too. Is there a way to remove methane from the atmosphere?