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Rahmstorf: Is it OK to call him an “alarmist” now?

May 9, 2012

Some folks never give up.  In the following video Stefan Rahmstorf says…

To me a tipping point in the climate system is like a sweet spot in the climate system, where a small perturbation can have a major, even qualitative effect.  It’s like a small change in temperature moving, for example, the Greenland Ice sheet beyond the point where eventually it will melt down all together…from about 2 degrees global warming there would be a risk of the complete meltdown of the Greenland Ice sheet…I think this two degree limit agreed in Cancun by the politicians may not be enough to prevent a dangerous interference in the climate system.

Now let’s be clear about this: a “complete meltdown” of the Greenland ice sheet would raise the planet’s sea level 7 meters (7000 mm).  The sea level rise rate today is about 3 mm per year and decreasing according to satellite data.  A rational reading the tide gauge data is even less.

I guess in Greenland ice must melt at -25°C.  Here is today’s temperature outlook…

Oh, I know, the scientifically sophomoric sophisticated will tell us all about the rapidly accelerating glaciers.  Well, their favorite journal, Science, throws a little icy cold water on their dreams of catastrophic nirvana.  In 21st-Century Evolution of Greenland Outlet Glacier Velocities ( T. Moon, et. al., Science, 4 May 2012, Vol. 336, pp. 576-578)  Moon et. al. produced “a decade-long (2000 to 2010) record documenting the ongoing velocity evolution of nearly all (200+) of Greenland’s major outlet glaciers.”  They found that in some regions there was a glacier acceleration (SEE! SEE!), but not very consistently over the last 10 years.  Here is their conclusion

Our observations have implications for recent work on sea level rise. Earlier research (33) used a kinematic approach to estimate upper bounds of 0.8 to 2.0 m for 21st-century sea level rise. In Greenland, this work assumed ice-sheet–wide doubling of glacier speeds (low-end scenario) or an order of magnitude increase in speeds (high-end scenario) from 2000 to 2010. Our wide sampling of actual 2000 to 2010 changes shows that glacier acceleration across the ice sheet remains far below these estimates, suggesting that sea level rise associated with Greenland glacier dynamics remains well below the low-end scenario (9.3 cm by 2100) at present. Continued acceleration, however,may cause sea level rise to approach the low-end limit by this century’s end. Our sampling of a large population of glaciers, many of which have sustained considerable thinning and retreat, suggests little potential for the type of widespread extreme (i.e., order of magnitude) acceleration represented in the high-end scenario (46.7 cm by 2100). Our result is consistent with findings from recent numerical flow models (34).

So, Rahmstorf is worried about a “complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet” which would lead to 7 meters (7000 mm) of sea level rise, but the data shows “sea level rise associated with Greenland glacier dynamics remains well below the low-end scenario (9.3 cm by 2100)” (93 mm by 2100).  Does being off by a factor of 75 (7000/93) qualify as “alarmist?”

By the way, when Moon says “Earlier research (33) used a kinematic approach to estimate upper bounds of 0.8 to 2.0 m for 21st-century sea level rise” he is talking about Kinematic Constraints on Glacier Contributions to 21st Century Sea-Level Rise (Pfeffer, et. al., Science, 5 September 2008, Vol. 321. no. 5894, pp. 1340 – 1343).  I discussed this paper at length two years ago in my “Reply to John Mashey.” (Still feeling smug, John?) 

And finally,  Moon’s last sentence says “Our result is consistent with findings from recent numerical flow models (34).”  He is talking about Committed sea-level rise for the next century from Greenland ice sheet dynamics during the past decade (Price, et. al., PNAS, 31 May 2011, vol. 108 no. 22 pp. 8978-8983).    Price, et. al. say

The modeling conducted here and some reasonable assumptions can be used to make approximate upper-bound estimates for future SLR from GIS [Greenland Ice Sheet] dynamics, without accounting for future dynamical changes explicitly. As discussed above, numerous observations indicate that the trigger for the majority of dynamic thinning in Greenland during the last decade was episodic in nature, as the result of incursions of relatively warm ocean waters. By assuming that similar perturbations occur at regular intervals over the next century and that the ice sheet responds in a similar manner, we can repeatedly combine (sum) the cumulative SLR [sea level rise] curve from Fig. 4B to arrive at additional estimates for SLR by 2100. For example, if perturbations like those during the last decade recur every 50, 20, or 10 y during the next 100 y, we estimate a cumulative SLR from GIS dynamics by 2100 of approximately 10, 25, and 45 mm, respectively…Addition of the estimated 40 mm of SLR from changes in SMB [surface mass balance] by 2100 would result in a total SLR from Greenland of 85 mm by 2100.

Holy cow! Rahmstorf is telling us to be worried about 7000 mm of sea level rise due to the “complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet,” but Price et. al. say maybe 85 mm due to Greenland by 2100.

3 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Climate Ponderings.


  2. “Continued acceleration, however,may cause sea level rise to approach the low-end limit by this century’s end.”
    Translation: it’ll have to really get cracking if it wants to come anywhere near R.’s lowest bounds. Not a smart bet.


  3. Moon is Twila Moon, a female.



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