Sunday, 20 August 2017

Climate Change - Glaciation in Antarctica

Around 34 million years ago, at the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (EOT), the Earth was undergoing a period of global cooling. 

Antarctica changed from a green forested continent to the land of ice we know today. 

The cooling was partly caused by declining atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, but it also coincides with changes in the geography of the Southern Ocean.

This is an image of how this ancient world might have looked, created recently by Alan Kennedy of the University of Bristol -



Around 55 million years ago, CO2 levels rose during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).
Weathering of the newly-building Himalayas caused CO2 levels to begin to fall.
CO2 in rain makes a weak acid, which causes chemical weathering (especially of carbonate rocks like limestone, but of other rocks as well).
Rivers carry the carbon compounds down to the oceans, where various processes (such as the formation of calcareous shells by organisms) eventually deposit the material on the ocean floor.


Antarctic glaciation began when CO2 level fell to around around 750 ppmand spread more widely as the CO2 level continued to fall.

So...... what could be the future for Antarctica as global warming continues?

CO2 concentration in the atmosphere now is just over 400 ppm, but no one expects Antarctic ice sheets to melt entirely at any point soon.

If CO2 stopped rising now, ice would continue to melt from ice sheets and glaciers for a very long time.

There would still be a great deal of ice in Antarctica... the process would stabilise at a certain level of ice coverage.

Making Europe wild again
Even melting a fraction of Antarctica's ice would raise sea levels by a significant amount.
However, if CO2 levels get to over 750 ppm, eventually Antarctica could indeed be ice-free.

It would take time, as it takes a lot of energy to turn ice at zero degrees C into water at zero degrees C.... and the ice needs to warm up to zero degrees C before that.

Researchers have discovered this might take thousands of years, but would eventually happen if all the fossil fuels were to be burned.

Their analysis suggests that this would cause sea level to rise by 3 metres each century during the first thousand years.
Antarctica from space
If all of the Antarctic ice melted, sea levels around the world would rise about 58 metres.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Climate Change - Animals are moving

Animals are reacting to climate change very quickly.

Some move to higher places, others move north or south.

Dragonflies love warmer temperatures.

UK dragonflies have mainly stayed in the south of the country, until recently.


Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)
That is over 2km per year..... nearly 6 metres per day.

For example, the ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) and the hairy dragonfly, (Brachytron pratense), have moved into north-west England. 

This is evidence that the UK’s climate is growing warmer.

"So much has happened to dragonflies in Britain since the 1990s that there is a most compelling case for the Government to adopt them as indicators of climate change", said Steve Brooks.
Mr Stephen Brooks

Scientists from the University of York  found that, on average, living things have "moved uphill" at 12.2 metres per decade.
  They are moving away from the equator at 17.6 kilometres per decade.
“These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the Equator at around 20 cm per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year. 
This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century.”
Dr I-Ching Chen said: 


“We have for the first time shown that the amount by which the distributions of species have changed is correlated with the amount the climate has changed in that region.”

I-Ching Chen and her colleagues discovered that moths had on average moved 67 metres uphill on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.

Comma butterfly. Photo: Butterfly Conservation & Jim Asher
The Comma butterfly has moved 220 kilometres northwards from central     England to Edinburgh, in only two decades.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Climate Change - Where does the heat go?



As global warming continues, heat goes into all parts of the Earth's systems.

The Earth is gaining more heat than it loses, and most of that heat is going into the oceans.

More heat is going into the upper parts of the oceans.

The water in the oceans is expanding, which is one reason sea level is rising.



The deepest oceans are still cold.

Some of the heat is involved in melting ice, including Arctic sea ice.



The recent reduction in Arctic sea ice is very dramatic.

The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also melting.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Climate Change - "The climate has always changed .......what is all the fuss about?"

The climate has changed before.


When people say "It's changed before without people, so people can't be involved this time" ....think of forest fires.



Fires happened throughout time, does that mean people can't start fires?

Ice ages, warm times ... the geological record in the rocks shows many events.

Even so, the current changes are very unusual.





Graph based on a paper published in 2013

The recent rise in temperature is very fast.

What other kinds of changes are happening?


Geologists have compared the past with the present.


This report -
Climate Change Evidence: The Geological Society of London


explains what they have discovered.

This is based on part of that report:

"Before the current warming trend began, temperatures were declining.

This cooling took Earth’s climate into the ‘Little Ice Age’ (1450 – 1850). 

Calculations indicate that this period of cool conditions should continue for about another 1,000 years. 

Nevertheless, after 1900 the overall decline in temperature sharply reversed." 

So the Earth should be cooling.

There's lots of evidence for human involvement in these changes.  
Atmospheric CO2 is now around 400 parts per million (ppm).
It last reached similar levels during the Pliocene, 5.3-2.6 million years ago.
Outcrop view

In the middle Pliocene, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air ranged from about 380 to 450 parts per million. 

During this period, the area around the North Pole was much warmer and wetter than it is now.

Summer temperatures in the Arctic were around 15 degrees C, which is about 8 degrees C warmer than they are now.
Global average temperatures were 2-3°C warmer than today.

Sea level rose by up to 20 metres in places.

What are the risks?
This source gives examples relating mainly to the USA ..........

but applicable more widely too.

For more interesting information, see -

Fact Sheets produced by 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Climate Change - Greenland

The invention of the name Greenland may mark the start of the advertising industry.

The Saga of the Greenlanders tells how Erik the Red, the Icelandic Viking who wanted to get people to join his planned settlement, called it Greenland because a pleasant name would attract more settlers:

He called the land which he had found Greenland, because, quoth he, "people will be attracted thither, if the land has a good name." 

The ice sheet on Greenland covers most of this huge island.




Greenland is losing ice, and the mass of ice lost is measured by satellites called GRACE.

Embedded image permalink

A survey of Greenland's glaciers has shown they are speeding up.

The speed has increased by about 30% in 10 years.

A new NASA project called Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) will observe changing water temperatures on the continental shelf surrounding Greenland, and how marine glaciers react to the presence of warm, salty Atlantic water.

Updates about Greenland's ice sheet are regularly posted by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Climate Change - The End-Permian Mass Extinction

Five major mass extinction events are recorded in the rock record of the last 600 million years.
The biggest extinction was at the end of the Permian, around 252 million years ago.

It is called the End-Permian mass extinction.


Only about 8% of species survived to live on in the Triassic Period.



The event played out over 60,000 years.
Acidification of the oceans lasted for about 10,000 years.
Two separate pulses of CO2 into the atmosphere - a "one-two punch" - may have been involved in the die-off, according to new research.
CO2 was released by massive volcanism from the Siberian Traps, now represented as a large region of volcanic rock. 

A large amount of coal had been burned over a period of tens of thousands of years.
The coal was burned by the Siberian Traps volcanic activity.
The burning actually happened underground, with the carbon dioxide and ash mixing with magma.

This produced vast amounts of CO2 which warmed the Earth and changed the chemistry of the oceans.
The research team, led by Dr Matthew Clarkson from the University of Edinburgh, examined rocks in the United Arab Emirates. 
Siberian Traps
The rocks, which were on the ocean floor at the time, preserve a detailed record of changing oceanic conditions. 

The carbon was released at a similar rate to modern emissions. 
Matthew Clarkson image
Dr Clarkson says "Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now.
"This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions."

Monday, 14 August 2017

Climate Change - El Nino

El Niño is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific, and has important consequences for weather around the world.

El Niño happens every three to seven years.

“El Niño” is Spanish for “The Little Boy”.

Peruvian fishermen named the event many years ago.


They noticed that every few years around Christmas, virtually no fish could be found in the unusually warm waters. 
El Niño is marked by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

The opposite conditions are called La Nina (The Little Girl), characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. 

El Nino clearly affects global temperatures.

One piece of evidence that world temperatures are rising is that every La Nina ‘year’ since 1998 was warmer than every El Nino ‘year’ before 1995:  

As the Earth warms, each El Nino 'rides' on a higher base-line global temperature:

The record-breaking temperatures of 2015 were partly boosted by an El Nino event ... but 2015 would have been the warmest year in the modern record even if there had been no El Nino.

Information about El Nino is provided in bulletins produced by the US National Weather Service and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Planet Earth - Doggerland

For many years, fishermen in the North Sea, between Britain and Denmark, have found fossil bones in their nets.



This fossil catch has yielded over 200 tons of fossil bones, and over 15,000 mammoth teeth.   

The bones include remains of mammoths, three different species of woolly rhinos, hippos, lionsbears, wild horsesbison, elk, reindeer, hyenas, wolves, and Sabre tooth cats of at least two species.   

They tell us about a whole community of animals.

Beneath the North Sea lies a lost landscape.

This land was as big as modern Britain - hills and valleys, rivers and forests, marsh and moor. 

Sometimes warm and marshy, and at other times a frozen tundra.

This has been named "Doggerland".



"Doggerland" is a name given to a vast lowland plain, with the northern coastline stretching from Shetland to Jutland. 

The Thames flowed into the Rhine, which turned south, and made the English Channel its estuary. 

The highest point was a hilly region where the Dogger sand-banks are today.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Climate Change - A report on 2016 - yet another record-breaking year

The State of the Climate in 2016 report was released online on August 10th 2017 by the American Meteorological Society (AMS)


2016 was the warmest year in 137 years of record-keeping - the third year in a row of record-breaking temperatures.
The record resulted from the combined influence of long-term global warming and a strong El Niño early in the year.
Map of global surface temperatures in 2016
Global average sea level rose to a new record high in 2016.
Map of global sea level in 2016
A general increase in the water cycle (the process of evaporating water into air and condensing it as rain or snow), combined with the strong El Niño, enhanced the variability of precipitation around the world.
Map of global drought and moisture conditions in 2016

Friday, 11 August 2017

Climate Change - The Experts

In the latest survey by Dr James Powell, 69,402 out of 69,406 climate change researchers accept human activity is causing global warming.

What do scientists who research climate change say?

Professor Tim Palmer FRS, Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics, University of Oxford:



“The threat of dangerous man-made changes to global climate is quite unequivocal. 
It follows that if we want to reduce this threat, we must cut our emissions of greenhouse gases."

Professor John Shepherd FRS, Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton:


“The evidence is very clear that the world is warming, and that human activities are the main cause. 
Natural changes and fluctuations do occur but they are relatively small."

Professor Joanna Haigh CBE FRS, Professor of Atmospheric Physics, Imperial College London:



The concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere now exceeds anything it has experienced in the past 3 million years and its continuing upward trend is almost certain to result in further global warming."

Professor Sir Brian Hoskins FRS, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London:




“The evidence of changes in many different aspects of the climate system, from the ice sheets to the deep ocean, shows that climate change is happening.   
To reduce the serious risks posed by increasing changes in the climate, we need to redouble our efforts globally to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Royal Society has also published a "Short Guide to Climate Change" 

Another organisation offering an important document is the Geological Society of London.

                                 
The Geological Society of London say -

This rate of increase of CO2 is unprecedented.....

even in comparison with the massive injection of carbon into the atmosphere 55 million years ago that led to the major PETM warming event....

and is likely to lead to a similar rise in both temperature and sea level. 

From.....

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Planet Earth - 1816 - The Year Without a Summer

Climate reacts to sudden shocks.

The weather in 1816 was unprecedented. 

Spring arrived but then everything seemed to turn backward, as cold temperatures returned. 

The sky seemed permanently overcast. 


The lack of sunlight became so severe that farmers lost their crops.

Food shortages were reported in Ireland, France, England, and the United States.

It was over 100 years before anyone understood the reason for this weather disaster.

The eruption of an enormous volcano on a remote island in the Indian Ocean a year earlier had thrown enormous amounts of volcanic ash into the upper atmosphere.

The dust from Mount Tambora, which had erupted in early April 1815, had shrouded the globe. 

With sunlight blocked, 1816 did not have a normal summer.

In Switzerland, the dismal summer of 1816 led to the writing of a famous story. 

A group of writers, including Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his future wife Mary, challenged each other to write dark tales inspired by the gloomy and chilly weather.

During the miserable weather Mary Shelley wrote her classic novel Frankenstein.

This event was not unique.

A new study has found that 15 of the 16 coldest summers recorded between 500 B.C. and A.D. 1,000 followed large volcanic eruptions.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Climate Change - Glacial archaeology

Norway is dotted with small glaciers, and 'permanent' snow patches .

Around 7,000 years ago (5000 BC) the Earth was enjoying a warm climate:



Then it cooled, allowing those icy areas to form.



Now those glaciers and patches of perennial ice in the high mountains of Southern Norway have started to melt again, as the Earth is warming. 

They contain all sorts of archaeological treasures.

Anything from ancient shoes to 5000-year-old arrowheads. 

As a result a new kind of archaeology has begun - Glacial archaeology.

6_norways-oldest-shoe

In 2006, an amateur archaeologist came across an amazingly well-preserved ancient leather shoe in the Lendbreen ice patch in Norway. 

When the shoe was examined and tested, archaeologists discovered the shoe was over 3,000 years old, and dated from the Bronze Age.

"Actually we should be slowly approaching a new ice age. 
But in the past 20 years we have witnessed artefacts turning up in summer from increasingly deeper layers of the glaciers." says Lars Pilø.
Lars does fieldwork in glaciers and ice patches, finding things discarded or lost by people long ago.

Glacial archaeology is becoming a fascinating new field of research.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Climate Change - Ocean acidification - what does it mean?

The phrase 'ocean acidification' means that the pH of seawater is falling.

The pH scale is used by scientists to describe strength of acids and alkalis. 

Sea water normally had a pH around 8.2 

It has now reduced to 8.1, and will continue to reduce, as more CO2 is added to the air by human activities.



Some of the extra COin the air dissolves in the sea, and this affects sealife.

Here is what one expert scientist has said about this -

"A drop of 0.1-unit pH is equivalent to about a 26% increase in the ocean hydrogen ion concentration.
"pH is likely to drop by 0.3-0.4 units by the end of the 21st century. 
"This will increase ocean hydrogen ion concentration (or acidity) by 100-150% above what it was in pre-industrial times."



Humanity's greenhouse gas emissions may be acidifying the oceans at a faster rate than at any time in the last 300 million years. 

With ocean acidification, corals cannot absorb the calcium carbonate they need to maintain their skeletons.

The stony skeletons that support corals and reefs will dissolve.


Picture A shows healthy coral.     Picture B shows dead and dying coral.
A healthy coral reef with living Acropora palmata and good water quality and a degraded coral reef with dead A. palmata and poor water quality.  

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is conducting research on ocean acidification in the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and Florida estuaries, and the Caribbean and Pacific.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Climate Change - What's going on with the Gulf Stream?

The Gulf Stream transports vast amounts of heat north, from the equator to the pole, passing off the East Coast of the U.S. and into the North Atlantic.



The Northern Hemisphere winter of 2014-15 was the warmest on record globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

But one area of the North Atlantic was the coldest on record... shown in blue on this map.Land and Ocean Temperatures

This cold pool may be an indicator of a dramatic slowdown in the Gulf Stream.

A slowdown like this in the current has not happened for a very long time, perhaps as long as 1,000 years. 

It is possibly related to the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. 

The freshwater from the ice sheet is lighter than heavier, salty water that usually occupies that area. 

It tends to sit on top of the water, interfering with the sinking of dense, cold and salt-rich water.



The Gulf Stream transports more water than "all the world's rivers combined," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A rapid slowdown in the current would increase the rate of sea level rise along the Mid-Atlantic and North-east coasts of the U.S. 

It could also bring much cooler conditions to parts of northern Europe.

This is still a matter needing more research.