Is Stable Climate a Thing of the Past?

October 24, 2013

By Dorsi Diaz

Most of us have had that funny feeling that there is something not quite right with our weather and climate recently. We discuss it on FaceBook, mention it to the cashier at the store and maybe even talk about it at the dinner table. Musings like, “Wow the weather sure has been weird lately” and “It’s so hot, it has never been this hot before.” Every day now (depending on what media outlet you listen to) you will see headlines about record flooding, record rainfall, record heat, record storms, record tornadoes, record fires and record hurricanes.

“Record” seems to be the new buzz word when we talk about the climate nowadays.

One thing you can rest assured in though is that it really is not a figment of your imagination. The climate is indeed changing – and rapidly. So fast that it’s startling even climate scientists and blowing previous “computer modelings” out the window.

What really is going here?

A lot.

When the earth enters into certain periods and reaches certain “tipping points,” weather and climate can change very very fast. According to a report by the Pentagon: An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for US National Security, it can change so fast that we can have catastrophic climate change within a period of mere years – a state we call “abrupt climate change.” Abrupt climate change comes when those tipping points are reached or surpassed, much like a runway train without brakes or a snowball rolling down a hill at high speed.

In a nutshell, it’s a point none of us ever wanted to see in our lifetimes. But the sad reality of it is that we are.

Paul Beckwith, part-time professor and a PhD student with the laboratory for paleoclimatology and climatology at the University of Ottawa, recently had some startling things to say about what’s happening to our climate. Beckwith says that we have now entered into a period of “abrupt climate change” and that we can now expect that runaway train to gain even more speed. Because some dangerous feedback loops have been put into action, our jet stream has been affected. (Think of it like this – the “conveyor belt” on earths air conditioner is now loose and wandering in areas it never has – hence the reason we are seeing mass amounts of rainfall being dumped in very short periods of time in unlucky areas.)

Beckwith’s statement on where we stand now:

“Abrupt climate change. It is happening today, big time. The northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation system is doing its own thing, without the guidance of a stable jet stream. The jet stream is fractured into meandering and stuck streaked segments, which are hoovering up water vapor and directing it day after day to unlucky localized regions, depositing months or seasons worth of rain in only a few days, turning these locales into water worlds and trashing all infrastructure like houses, roads, train tracks and pipelines and also creating massive sinkholes and catastrophic landslides. And climate change is only getting warmed up.

In the Arctic, methane is coming out of the thawing permafrost. Both on land and under the ocean on the sea floor. The Yedoma permafrost in Siberia is now belching out methane at greatly accelerated rates due to intense warming. The collapsing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is exposing the open ocean to greatly increased solar absorption and turbulent mixing from wave action due to persistent cyclonic activity. Massive cyclonic activity will trash large portions of the sea ice if positioned to export broken ice via the Fram Strait.

What does it all mean?

We have lost our stable climate. Likely permanently. Rates of change are greatly exceeding anything in the paleorecords. By at least 10x, and more likely >30x. We are heading to a much warmer world. The transition will be brutal for civilization.

Can we avoid this? Stop it? Probably not. Not with climate reality being suppressed by corporations and their government employees in their relentless push for more and more fossil fuel infrastructure and mining and drilling.

Craziness, in a nutshell. Temperatures over land surfaces in the far north have been consistently over 25 C for weeks, due to persistent high pressure atmospheric blocks, leading to clear skies and unblocked solar exposure. Water temperatures in rivers and streams in the far north have resulted in large fish kills as their ecological mortality thresholds have been exceeded. Many other regions are experiencing strange incidences of animal mortality. Mass migrations of animals towards the poles are occurring on land and sea, at startling rates, in an effort for more hospitable surroundings for survival. Shifting food source distributions is causing even hardier, less vulnerable species to be severely stressed. For example, dolphins are being stranded or dying, birds are dropping out of the sky, and new parasites and bacteria are proliferating with warmer temperatures.

In regions of the world undergoing severe droughts the vegetation and soils are drying and fires are exploding in size, frequency, and severity. Especially hard-hit are large regions of the US southwest, southern Europe, and large swaths of Asia. Who knows if forests that are leveled by fire will eventually be reforested; it all depends on what type of climate establishes in the region.

What about coastal regions around the world and sea levels? Not looking too good for the home team. In 2012 Greenland tossed off about 700 Gt (Gt=billion tons) of sea ice, from both melting and calving. As the ice melts, it is darkening from concentrated contaminants being exposed, from much greater areas of low albedo meltwater pools, and from fresh deposits of black carbon ash from northern forest fires. Even more worrying are ominous signs of increasing movement. GPS sensor anchored to the 3 km thick glaciers hundreds of kms from the coast are registering increased sliding. Meltwater moulins are chewing through the ice from the surface to the bedrock and are transporting heat downward, softening up the ice bonded to the bedrock and allowing sliding. Eventually, large chunks will slide into the ocean causing tsunamis and abrupt sea level rises. Many regions of the sea floor around Greenland are scarred from enormous calving episodes in the past.

Coastal Flooding

On a positive note, this knowledge of our changing climate threat is filtering out to greater numbers of the slumbering public that has been brainwashed into lethargy by the protectors of the status quo. As more and more people see the trees dying in their back yards and their cities and houses and roads buckling under unrelenting torrential rains, they are awaking to the threat. And there will be a threshold crossed and a tipping point reached in human behavior with an understanding of the reality of the risks we face. And finally global concerted action. To slash emissions. And change our ways. And retool our economies and reset our priorities. And not take our planet for granted.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Much of what Beckwith says is mirrored in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change. A final draft of the physical science portion of the IPCC report was released in early October; it’s worth taking a little time to examine what, exactly, the new projections entail.

[Among other things, the report is unequivocal when it states: “Human influence on the climate system is clear” (10).]

So yes, the weather is weird and it is changing. The question now is: “Can we do something to stop this runaway train?” or did we already give it enough fuel to go even faster?Φ

Another article about tipping points and abrupt climate change: The Tipping Point and its Effects: a Global Climate Change Warming Point of No Return.

Dorsi Diaz is a freelance writer and researcher. She writes at HubPages and is also the climate change reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. She wrote for the ANG newspaper group as a community columnist for over 5 years. She is also a photographer, art educator and artist who lives in the SF Bay Area. 

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