Saturday, December 26, 2015

Warmest Xmas Ever In East: But Don't Celebrate!

Well, would you celebrate the birth of a three-headed infant? I don't think so! You'd understand instinctively it's unnatural. Humans do not have 3-headed babies, it's a simple statement of fact. Hence, something serious must be wrong with this picture. In like manner, people shouldn't be celebrating a 66F Christmas Day in New York, or a 70 F Christmas Eve. Because in meteorological terms such temperatures in December for eastern cities are just as unnatural as 3-headed babies. But to hear and see some people, it's a "gift".


In fact would you regard it as a gift when the next El Nino erupts and you have temperatures of 90- 95 F on Christmas Day? Don't believe it can happen? Think again! Also, that such high temperature conditions will one day become permanent through the entire year - not just the odd time or during a heat wave or a few summer months.

Many people - such as the guy on an NBC segment two days ago who exclaimed "This is nuts!" - want to believe this is just an aberration, an unusually warm but annoying few days in one warmish December. But I have news for them: it's just the beginning of ever escalating temperature aberrations including intense heat waves which will also see "cool" temperatures at night barely different from daytime highs. Get braced for an accelerated period of global warming! Welcome to the pre-runaway greenhouse effect phase!

Oh, for sure, the meteorologists  (like NBC's Al Roker, a global warming skeptic) will point to large high pressure domes over the nation's midsection or 'deformed' jet streams and expatiate on  how long they may last. The impression given here is of a transitory meteorological phenomenon which has little or no connection to climate science. So we just need to expect in coming years that the jet stream will float high over Canada making conditions unbearably hot by keeping the jet stream away and hot air flooding in from the south.

But these guys never touch on the whys and wherefores! Well, Geophysicist and climate scientist S. George Philander did more than 17 years ago in a small but hot-button piece in Eos: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union (March 31, 1998):Who is El Nino?’

Philander argued that El Nino and its sister cyclic counterpart 'La Nina' are not merely the yin and yangs of a meteorological cycle (La Nina from current forecasts is due to ramp up the end of next year) but actually offshoots of climate change in terms of their expected future behavior. Thus, as more CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere (as indicated by the Keeling curve - which shows CO2 injection has exceeded the absorption capacity of the oceans), El Nino will ramp up leading to blistering hot and dry conditions, even as La Nina continues her antics bringing cooler spells and precip. However, unmentioned is the game changer of altered albedo.

For reference, the heating effects are largely tied to increases in ocean temperatures for El Nino. For the past several months these temperatures have reached 3.6F higher than normal. In its early stages EL Nino had already spun off environmental havoc including "red tides" - from a certain species of algae, as well as rendering a species of crab inedible that usually thrives in the sea waters off southern California. This effect has been combined with unusual jet stream flows this December to effectively turn the nation schizoid - with we in the West having the usual normal cold temperature (it is 18F now as I write this) while those in the eastern U.S. bask in unusually warm temperatures with amped up warm, moist air entering from the Gulf.

To grasp this, try to think of what happens when you open the door of your fridge and allow it to defrost. Over a rather brief time interval all your ice melts (de-frosting) and the fridge (if left open)  will reach thermal equilibrium with the room temperature. At this point no ice remains at all, and meanwhile your electric bill will soar. In a similar way, the Arctic is defrosting (and to a lesser extent the Antarctic) and this is encapsulated in the lower diagram.

The defrosting of the Arctic arises from the melting of its polar ice and sea ice, as well as large glaciers and that includes much of the land mass of Greenland. The situation worsens as temperatures (from higher CO2 levels) lead to earlier and earlier melting, analogous to leaving the fridge door open longer and longer. Surface temperatures last summer ranged up to 3 Celsius higher than average and generated a much earlier melting.

When snow melts, grains tend to cluster in a process called 'constructive metamorphism. This reduces the albedo or reflectivity of the surface - leading to increased absorption of solar radiation. Meanwhile, bare ice is much less reflective than snow, absorbing even more solar radiation and further speeding any melting. (In the diagram, the red arrows indicate incoming radiation and the blue arrows indicate radiation reflected back into space. Percentages give the amounts of reflected incoming solar radiation).

All this - combined with an intense El Nino - paved the way for the abnormal temperatures we're seeing now in the eastern U.S.  The other aspect to bear in mind, as Philander noted, is that the El Ninos in the future -fed by global warming - will steadily increase in intensity. The EL Nino -La Nnia oscillation itself will keep going until the first 'year of no seasons' predicted by David Suzuki as long ago as 1991.  He estimated in his book, 'It's A Matter of Survival' (1991), that the first year of no season would occur in 2040. But given the pace of warming has ramped up to the point a 2C target threshold is now mostly regarded as a pipedream (given no serious carbon emissions cuts) we will likely see that first year of no seasons as early as 2030.

As a recent TIME report noted (Dec. 28, p. 18):

"A 3.5 C temperature rise would occur even if all (200) nations meet initial pledges to reduce carbon emissions.  This would still submerge coastal cities and drive over half of species to extinction."

It would also make life so horrific for humans, they will wish for extinction. Think of 6-8 month heat waves lasting even through supposed 'cold' months and temperatures hitting 95F- 100 F regularly - even in December. Think of it happening not just in the U.S. but globally.  And think of power grids mostly being down because they are unable to meet the vastly enhanced power demands, say for air conditioning.

The other factor that's enabled a more rapid heating from global warming, is the reduction of global dimming. The effect was first spotted by Gerry Stanhill, an English scientist working in Israel. Stanhill called the phenomenon 'global dimming', but his research, published in 2001, met with a skeptical response from other climate scientists. It wasn't until several years later that his conclusions were confirmed by Australian scientists using a completely different method to estimate solar radiation, that climate scientists at last woke up to the reality of global dimming.

Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution. This visible air pollution reflects sunlight back into space, preventing it reaching the surface. But the pollution also changes the optical properties of clouds. Because the particles seed the formation of water droplets, polluted clouds contain a larger number of droplets than unpolluted clouds. Recent research shows that this makes them more reflective than they would otherwise be, enhancing albedo and hence offsetting the lowered albedo from Arctic melting.

Stanhill and others estimated that global dimming masked up to one third of global warming for the past twenty -five years. Now that masking is at an end, and we are seeing mean global temperatures ramp up yearly.

We are headed for very "interesting" times indeed, mostly brought about because we paid too much attention to the climate change skeptics and their hacks in the media for too long. Now the planet inherited by our younger generations will likely not be worth living on. But perhaps they will be able to find a new one, based on a working interstellar drive.  If they settle such a world, hopefully they  won't end up trashing it for profit and expedience like their ancestors did to Earth.

One can always hope!

No comments: