Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Friday, July 13, 2012

Arctic Sea Ice is Melting Freakishly Fast - July 13th 2012

I know, I know, ANOTHER posting on Arctic sea ice!?  No, it's more than that.

I guess I just can't help myself, plus the sea ice melt is currently on record pace.  The all time record Arctic sea ice melt so far occurred in 2007, but right now there is somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 square kilometers more open water in the Arctic today than there was at this time in 2007!

The melt is really taking off north of Siberia, in Baffin Bay west of Greenland, and in the Beaufort Sea  north of the Canadian Yukon, Northwest Territories, and eastern Alaska.  Plus Hudson Bay will soon be ice free, well ahead of historical average melt dates.  If this keeps up we will see a new record for ice melt in the Arctic later this summer.  

This graph shows the comparison between the area of sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean between historical averages (1979-2000 - dark gray line), the 2007 record sea ice melt year (dotted green line) and current sea ice cover (blue line).

OK, so what?  What can we do to mitigate what is going on with global climate change.  While I encourage everyone out there to drive less, walk or bike more, and emit as little carbon as possible, the bottom line is that as individuals we can do little to mitigate the problem.  What is desperately needed NOW is for everyone to put pressure on their local, state, and national leaders to take steps to mandate change.  It's clear that the small grassroots effort that has been going on for the past few decades is not going to do the job.  We need large-scale investment in cleaner, more efficient energy, reductions in carbon emissions, and transportation options.

The science is in, and no matter how much nay-sayers or skeptics want to think or say otherwise, humans are driving the current trend of global warming.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administrations's Climatic Data Center just released data showing that the months of January through June of 2012 was the warmest ever in the 118 year history of national weather statistics.

This map shows state-by-state rankings of average temperature compared to all other years of Jan-June temperature averages since the late 1800s.  A score of "1" means it was the coldest average temperature in the record.  A score of "118" means it was the warmest in the temperature record.

This map shows that only two states, Washington and Oregon, showed near normal average temperatures, while the rest of the country experienced above normal to record warmest temperatures.  In fact, 30 states reported record warmest temperatures for this 6-month period.

Washington and Oregon were kept cool by Pacific storms that moved onshore, brought cooler temperatures, and much higher than average precipitation.  The rest of the country baked.

The national average for precipitation for Jan-June 2012 scored a "16", which means that it was the 16th driest Jan-June on record.  A few areas had near record precipitation, such as Coastal Washington, Oregon, northern California, and Minnesota.  The Pacific storms explain the rainfall in the NW, and if you recall, there were torrential rainfalls and massive flooding in MN in June.  Nevada, the four-corners states, and Wyoming in the meantime experienced near record low precipitation.  That's not that surprising - it's an arid part of the country anyway, but look at the Ohio River Valley.  These states routinely enjoy storm front after storm front bringing rain needed for agriculture, etc.  This Jan-June, however, rainfall was WAY down.
When are we going to wake up?  The individual action of a few people here and is simply not enough to make a difference when it comes to mitigating climate change.

This is our time.  This is our watch.  I believe that our children and grandchildren will rightly hold us responsible for our lack of action, regardless of what any other country or people do.

Carbon emissions are a responsibility of the rich.  The rich are the only ones with enough wealth to emit significant amounts of carbon.  And when I say rich, I mean people who earn more than $40-50K per year.  Where did this number come from?  This threshold was identified by two researchers, Pacala and Socolo, of Princeton University.  You can learn more about their work by watching this seminar by Dr. Pacala, given a few years ago at Stanford University.  It's about an hour long, but it's incredibly fascinating, and their conclusions bear consideration.

The people above the $40-50K personal wealth mark are the people rich enough to own a car, own a house, be materialistic consumers, etc.  This is not something we want to hear or like to hear, but it's a serious reality.  Economists looking at the emissions of anthropogenic carbon have discovered that the richest 500 million people on the planet, and that the poorest half of the global population (now over 3.5 billion people) are so poor that they emit almost nothing.

Carbon emission is a problem generated by the rich.  It is a problem that needs to be shouldered by the rich.

I am sadly convinced that based on what we are doing and on what we are not doing right now, we will not be heroes in future history books.  We will be branded as the generation(s) who were more concerned with short-term profits, personal wealth, and lavish lifestyle (i.e., greed) than we were with taking responsibility to be worthy stewards and caretakers of the planet for the benefit of future generations.

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