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Have the dominoes begun to fall?

In previous articles ("Solar Or Soy - Part 1" and "Solar Or Soy - Part 2"), we commented on the dangers of tipping points and the potential for disastrous runaway climate change.

This month, some alarming news about the Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet has highlighted the need for emergency action.

The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center has reported that the extent of Arctic sea ice this year is trending lower than the dramatic 2007 level. That follows the 2011 outcome, when the area of summer sea ice was the second lowest on record.

Each year, the sea ice retreats during the northern summer. This chart depicts the trend in the area of sea ice in September each year since 1979, reflecting a decline of 12 percent per decade:

2.20111004_Figure3

 

Here’s another comparison, showing the September sea ice extent as reported in 1980 (for 1979) and 2012 (for 2011):

3.Sea-ice-1980

4.Sea-ice-2012

The area of summer sea ice has reduced from around 8 million square kilometres in 1981 to around 4.5 million square kilometres in 2012. To put that in perspective, the land area of the USA (including Alaska and Hawaii) is around 9.8 million square kilometres.

This chart shows the trend for 2012, indicating that the sea ice extent may be lower in September than the dramatic level of 2007:

5.NSIDC-2

Why is this a problem?

  • “The danger is that an ice-free state in the Arctic summer will kick the climate system into run-on warming and create an aberrant new climate state many, many degrees hotter . . . The Arctic sea-ice is the first domino and it is falling fast.”
    Spratt, D and Lawson, D, “Bubbling our way to the Apocalypse”, Rolling Stone, November 2008, pp. 53-55  (David Spratt is the co-author, with Philip Sutton, of “Climate Code Red: the case for emergency action”, Scribe, 2008)

  • “. . . it is reasonable to conclude that unless some remarkable turn around occurs, the Arctic summer ice volume will be near-zero by 2020.”
    Professor Barry Brook, Director, Research Institute for Climate Change & Sustainability, University of Adelaide (Australia), "Depressing climate-related trends - But who gets it?" , 6 Nov 2011

  • “The extra heating of the Arctic basin if all the floating ice melted would be 80 watts per square metre, which averaged over the whole Earth is an increase of one watt per square metre. To put this in perspective, the extra heat which will be absorbed when the floating ice has gone is nearly 70 per cent of the heating caused by all the carbon dioxide pollution now present.”
    Dr James Lovelock, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A final warning”, Penguin, 2009, p. 29

  • “It is difficult to imagine how the Greenland ice sheet could survive if Arctic sea ice is lost entirely in the warm season.”
    Dr James Hansen (head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies), “Storms of my grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, 2009, p. 164

Professor Barry Brook's comments are based on an exponential extrapolation of the trend in sea ice reduction. Such a trend reflects feedbacks arising from factors such as thinning ice and larger areas of dark sea absorbing sunlight.

6.arctic_sea_ice_volume_freefall

The Greenland ice sheet is over 2 kilometres thick and is losing more than 250 cubic kilometres of ice each year, after neither losing nor gaining significant mass as recently as the 1990′s (Dr James Hansen, "Storms of my grandchildren", p. 287). 250 cubic kilometres is equivalent to 0.71 metres (2 feet, 4 inches) of water covering an area the size of Germany. Total loss of the Greenland ice sheet would equate to around 7 metres (23 feet) of sea level rise.

7.Germany

The Greenland ice sheet issues we covered in "Solar Or Soy - Part 2" (including the ice sheet’s falling level of reflectivity) have also been referred to in a "Climate Central" article of 29 June, 2012 by Andrew Freedman entitled “Greenland Ice Sheet Melt Nearing Critical ‘Tipping Point’”. Mr Freedman states: “The Greenland ice sheet is poised for another record melt this year, and is approaching a ‘tipping point’ into a new and more dangerous melt regime in which the summer melt area covers the entire land mass . . . The new findings show that the reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet, particularly the high-elevation areas where snow typically accumulates year-round, have reached a record low since records began in 2000. This indicates that the ice sheet is absorbing more energy than normal, potentially leading to another record melt year - just two years after the 2010 record melt season.”

As we reported previously, the dynamic wet melting process of the Greenland ice sheet (and others) has not been taken into account in the relatively modest projections of sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

These video links from 2009 provide an indication of what is happening:

"Greenland Rapids" recorded in 2009 by researchers from the Cryospheric Processes Laboratory, City College, New York City

Scientists capture dramatic footage of Arctic glaciers melting in hours

Are you concerned about climate change?

If so, please join forces with people demanding change. Without that initiative, governments will continue their practices of tokenism and lip service, rather than the urgent, meaningful action required.

Vegans are aiding the cause with their dietary choices, which are far less greenhouse gas emissions intensive than the animal-based alternatives. However, much more is required.

This is an emergency!

Paul_Mahony

Paul Mahony is a member of VegetarianVictoria, Animal Liberation Victoria, Animals Australia, Bayside Climate Change Action Group (BCCAG) and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment (LIVE).

In 2009, he prepared Vegetarian Victoria’s submission to the Victorian State Government in response to its Climate Change Green Paper. His question on animal agriculture and climate change finished second in polling for The Sunday Age’s 2011 "Climate Agenda", and prompted an article prior to the close of polling and another subsequently.

Paul has had over forty letters published in The Age and The Sunday Age since 2008. He is also contributing to the land use component of “ZCA 2020”, a joint project between Beyond Zero Emissions and The University of Melbourne. His work is also featured on the websites of BCCAG and LIVE.

Find Paul on Twitter & Slideshare.

Images and Charts:

National Snow and Ice Data Center, “Average Monthly Arctic Sea Ice Extent 1979-2011″

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, “NASA Finds Thickest Parts of Arctic Ice Cap Melting Faster”

National Snow and Ice Data Center, “Arctic Sea Ice Extent” as at 25 June 2012

“PIOMAS Yearly Minimum Arctic Ice Volume”, From Brook, B. "Depressing climate-related trends - but who gets it?", 6 Nov 2011  based on Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS, Zhang and Rothrock, 2003) graphs from the Polar Science Center of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington, Arctic Sea Ice Volume Anomaly, reported in PIOMAS September 2011 Volume Record Lower Still

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