Wednesday, April 30, 2014

California's Drought

Climatologist Who Predicted California Drought 10 Years Ago Says It May Soon Be ‘Even More Dire’

U.S. Drought Monitor forWest


First, though, as I’ve reported, scientists a decade ago not only predicted the loss of Arctic ice would dry out California, they also precisely predicted the specific, unprecedented change in the jet stream that has in fact caused the unprecedented nature of the California drought. Study co-author, Prof. Lisa Sloan, told me last week that, “I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire that our study suggested.”
“Where the sea ice is reduced, heat transfer from the ocean warms the atmosphere, resulting in a rising column of relatively warm air,” Sewall said. “The shift in storm tracks over North America was linked to the formation of these columns of warmer air over areas of reduced sea ice.” In January, Sewall wrote me that “both the pattern and even the magnitude of the anomaly looks very similar to what the models predicted in the 2005 study (see Fig. 3a [below]).”
Here is what Sewall’s model predicted in his 2005 paper:
Figure 3a: Differences in DJF [winter] averaged atmospheric quantities due to an imposed reduction in Arctic sea ice cover. The 500-millibar geopotential height (meters) increases by up to 70 m off the west coast of North America. Increased geopotential height deflects storms away from the dry locus and north into the wet locus
“Geopotential height” is the height above mean sea level for a given pressure level. The “500 mb level is often referred to as the steering level as most weather systems and precipitation follow the winds at this level,” which is around 18,000 feet.
Now here is what the 500 mb geopotential height anomaly looked like over the last year, viaNOAA:

2013 anomaly
That is either a highly accurate prediction or one heck of a coincidence.
The San Jose Mercury News explained that “meteorologists have fixed their attention on the scientific phenomenon they say is to blame for the emerging drought: a vast zone of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast, nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, so stubborn that one researcher has dubbed it the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.” This high pressure ridge has been acting “like a brick wall” and forcing the jet stream along a much more northerly track, “blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore in California, deflecting them up into Alaska and British Columbia, even delivering rain and cold weather to the East Coast.
Last year, I contacted Sloan to ask her if she thought there was a connection between the staggering loss of Arctic sea ice in recent years and the brutal drought gripping the West, as her research predicted. She wrote, “Yes, sadly, I think we were correct in our findings, and it will only be worse with Arctic sea ice diminishing quickly.” Last week, Sloan wrote me:
Yes, in this case I hate that we (Sewall & Sloan) might be correct. And in fact, I think the actual situation in the next few decades could be even more dire that our study suggested. Why do I say that? (1) we did not include changes in greenhouse gases other than CO2; (2) maybe we should have melted more sea ice and see what happens; (3) these atmospheric and precipitation estimates do not include changes in land use, in the US and elsewhere. Changing crops, or urban sprawl increases, or melting Greenland and Northern Hemisphere glaciers will surely have an impact on precipitation patterns.
2013-2014 was California’s warmest winter on record. (NOAA/NCDC)
2013-2014 was California’s warmest winter on record. (NOAA/NCDC)
 The increasing trend in annual temperature in California over the past 118 years. (Source: NOAA). This trend mirrors the global increase.
From UJ:
This same phenomena that is causing the California drought is causing Alaska to get more warm air, which would warm the arctic more (presumably). It also is what pushed cold air down to the Midwest / Great Lakes region this past winter - referred to as the Polar Vortex. We had near record snowfalls, and were colder than usual. It also took longer than normal (by 3-4 weeks) for Spring to get here this year.
It is interesting to see the world as whole - departures from normal - below:

March 2014 land and sea surface temperature anomalies in degrees Celsius. NOAA

Earth & Reverie

I wanted to add the blog, Earth & Reverie  to my blogroll, but Blogger is not co-operating.

So I am posting it here. It is a new group blog that I started on the subject of Global Warming.

I am reposting my most recent post below. The numbers are what brings it all home, gives me pause.

Numbers Rising
I recently discovered Bill McKibbens article from July of 2012, “Global Warming's Terrifying New Math”. If I had noticed it before, I did not fully digest it. Some highlights from it include:
The First Number: 2° Celsius 
Some context: So far, we've raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) 
The Second Number: 565 Gigatons 
Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. ….Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we're already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.CO2 emissions last year (2011) rose to 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2 percent from the year before….In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we'll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years (2028). "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees." [Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist] That's almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.…[The tar sands of Alberta] contain as much as 240 gigatons of carbon (or almost half of the available space if we take the 565 limit seriously)… The Orinoco deposits (in Venezuela are larger than Alberta's . 
The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons 
The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.  …John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today's market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion.The numbers are simply staggering – this [fossil fuel] industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they're planning to use it. …Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told Wall Street analysts that the company plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas. The five biggest oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the millennium…
Bill McKibben thinks one answer is to make the fossil fuel industry pay the cost of it’s ‘externalities’ - the cost of the pollution / CO2. “The higher the price on carbon, the more of those reserves would be worthless.”
I don’t know that that is the best way. The fossil fuel company and the heavy users could probably never repay the world for the cost of  the warmed planet (and costs of droughts, all the storms, etc.) and the cost of acidified ocean and loss of sea life (i.e. our food). And when the price of things get higher, the poor suffer the most, the wealthy would be fine for a long time.
The news came out about the same time as this McKibben article that the the Super-Rich have up to $32 Trillion in stored in ‘offshore’ tax havens (probably more now). So money - wise, there is little that could be done to prevent the very wealthy from using fossil fuels until they were gone. That is why rationing is the only practical solution.
I expect rationing would be difficult to enforce on the wealthy, who are used to getting whatever they want. But theoretically, it would give them an incentive to be more creative in how they use energy. If they were going to have large homes, for instance, they would need to incorporate smart designs and use renewable energy sources. (There could be limits on home size, too, for that matter). If they were going to travel, thought would have to be put into how to do so without using fossil fuels (sailing?). Efforts would have to be made to travel less. Perhaps the super-rich could buy other’s rations, but at least the other people would get some benefit and the overall use would be less.
The enforced slow-down of consumption, along with the re-planting of trees / forests, would be a good start. The other thing that should happen is a world-wide limit of one child per family (to make it per woman would be the practical way to do it). Part of the problem is clearly that too many people consuming too much energy is more than the planet can contain. We know that wars and famines have been predicted (and are happening). Some agriculture will be able to be shifted north - to Canada and Siberia, perhaps eventually to Greenland. But still, we know that more and more people want to live the ‘American’ dream life, no matter where on the earth they live. And since it is not reasonable to say that we can live it and other’s cannot, the only reasonable thing is to reduce the population equally, world wide. From looking at the charts, it looks like it should be reduced until the world population is at least down to one billion people. If people are going to ‘live the good life’, it may need to be less than that.
Unfortunately, if no rationing takes place, if deforestation continues, and population increases, nature will take care of things herself. But we should not consider her to be ‘cruel’ (as many people will surely die & extinctions are already happening at a rate of 3 species per hour), humanity has beaten nature down for quite some time. At some point, there is only so much nature can take before humans will no longer be able to continue life as we have come to think is usual.
Zach Klonoski wrote a good piece, "Wash hands of oil?" based on McKibbens book on the same subject as the above reference article, “Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist.”