Archive for the ‘glaciers’ Category

h1

A new round of Antarctic ice alarm

March 28, 2015

The alarm of a catastrophic meltdown of the Antarctic cycles up and down every year or two.  A journal article says the rate of melt is increasing, the popular press picks up on it and breathlessly warns about huge sea level rises sinking coastal cities around the world. We are told that x number of gigatonnes of ice per year are being dumped off the continent and wreaking their havoc on the world.   Then another study says “not so fast,” the mass losses aren’t that great after all.  Or, some crazy old skeptics ruin all the fun by recklessly bringing some logic to the discussion.

Today we have “Volume loss from Antarctic ice shelves is accelerating” (Paolo, et. al., Science, 2015).  The abstract warns us

“Overall, average ice-shelf volume change accelerated from negligible loss at 25 ± 64 km3 per year for 1994-2003 to rapid loss of 310 ± 74 km3 per year for 2003-2012.”

310 km3 per year (roughly the same as 310 gigatonnes per year) is pretty high compared to most other estimates. So you will probably see many references to this number because the bigger and scarier the more the press likes it.  But for the more sober minded, consider the following comparison of ice loss estimates from “Ice sheet mass balance and climate change” (Hanna, et. al., Nature, 2013)

Various estimates of ice mass change in the antarctic

Various estimates of ice mass change in the Antarctic

How does the recent Science paper compare?  If we place it on estimate plots from Hanna’s paper it would look like this..

Ice sheet mass balance and climate change - Hanna - Nature - 2013 v4

The Paolo Nature paper is an outlier.  But lets take them at their word.  They say that the Antarctic, on average, shed about 300 more Gigatonnes of ice per year during the 2003 to 2012 period than during the 1994 to 2003 period.  Where did all this ice go?  In to the oceans, of course.  That is why we have the great sea level rise scare.

So it follows that the sea level should have been rising faster during the 2003 to 2012 period than during the 1994 to 2003 year period.  How much faster?  Well, every gigatonne of water dumped into the oceans raises the sea level by about 2.78 microns. So 300 gigatonnes of extra water per year would raise the sea levels about an extra 840 microns a year, or about an extra 0.84 mm per year.  We are told that satellite data indicates that the global sea level is rising about 3 mm per year.  0.84 mm per year is a significant fraction of 3 mm per year, so such a rate increase should really stand out in the sea level rise data..

Well, here is some of that satellite sea level rise data…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This discussion has been about ice that is moving from the land to the sea and raising the sea level.  But let’s take a quick moment to look at the sea ice that surrounds Antarctica.  While this ice does not contribute to changes in the sea level, it does say something about the conditions in that area.

seaice_anomaly_antarctic - Cryosphere Today 150328

Do you see a trend?  I see a trend.  And I know there are variety of “just-so stories” to explain away this trend, but I am unconvinced.

Conclusion

Between 1994 and 2003 the average sea level rise rate was 3.77 mm/yr, according to satellite data (University of Colorado).  If the Antarctic were depositing an average of about 300 more gigatonnes of water in the ocean per year in the following years (2003 to 2012), then the average sea level rise rage from 2003 to 2012 should have increased by about 0.84 m/yr, to 4.61 mm/yr.

Instead, the average sea level rise rate from 2003 to 2012 dropped to 2.66 mm/yr.

The claim of a huge rise in ice loss from the Antarctic over this period is quite implausible.

h1

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.

h1

The Thermohaline Circulation Only Stops for Extreme, Unrealistic Models

June 4, 2009

Return to Criticisms of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”

Gore gives a cartoon description of the ocean circulation system when he explains what has become known as the thermohaline circulation, or the meridional overturning circulation.  In his simplistic scenario the surface ocean current that flows north in the Atlantic, bringing warmth to northern Europe will be halted by melting ice from Greenland, subsequently throwing Europe into an ice age. 

Here is Gore’s explanation in his own words from the Inconvenient Truth movie:

The Earth’s climate is like a big engine for redistributing heat from the equator to the poles.  And it does that by means of ocean currents and wind currents.  They tell us, the scientists do, that the Earth’s climate is an non-linear system – just a fancy way they have of saying that the changes are not all just gradual, some of them come suddenly, in big jumps… And so, all those wind and ocean currents that have formed since the last ice age and have been relatively stable – they’re all up in the air – they change. 

And one of the ones they’re most worried about, where they’ve spent a lot of time studying the problem is in the the North Atlantic where the gulf stream comes up and meets the cold winds coming off the Arctic over Greenland and that evaporates the heat out of the gulf stream and the steam is carried over to western Europe by the prevailing winds and the Earth’s rotation.  But isn’t it interesting that the whole ocean current system is all linked together in this loop, they call it the ocean conveyor.

vlcsnap-324533And the red are the warm surface currents, the Gulf Stream is the best known of them.  But the blue represent the cold currents running in the opposite direction…

vlcsnap-32114Up in the North Atlantic, after that heat is pulled out, what’s left behind is colder water, and saltier water, because the salt doesn’t go anywhere. And so, that makes it denser and heavier.  And so that cold heavy dense water sinks at the rate of 5 billion gallons per second.  And then that pulls that current back south.ani-21

At the end of the last ice age as the last glacier was receding from North America the ice melted and a giant pool of fresh water formed in North America, and the Great Lakes are the remnants of that huge lake.  An ice dam on the eastern border formed, and one day it broke, and all that fresh water came rushing out, ripping open the St. Lawrence there, and it diluted the salty dense cold water, made it fresher and lighter so it stopped sinking, and that pump shut off.

 vlcsnap-549956-smallAnd the heat transfer stopped.  And Europe went back into an ice age for another 900 to 1000 years.  And the change from conditions like we have here today to an ice age took place in perhaps as little as ten years time.  So that’s a sudden jump.  Now, of course, that’s not going to happen again because the glaciers of North America are not there… Is there any other big chunk of ice anywhere near there…?  Oh, yeah [Gore says ominously, as the image pans to ice covered Greenland] we’ll come back to that one…

Later in the movie Gore tells us that Greenland is rapidly melting.  The point being that it will provide a massive amount of fresh water that will stop the the thermohaline conveyor and  “would raise sea level almost 20 feet if it ‘went,'” Gore tells us.  He tells us about water seeping to the bottom of the ice sheets where it “lubricates where the ice meets the bedrock” causing the ice to slide toward the ocean.

Then he shows a series of pictures purporting to show the amount of melting in Greenland.  Gore says…

ani-31

“In 1992 they measured this amount of melting in Greenland … Ten years later this is what happened…And here’s the melting from 2005”

 

Hosing Experiments

But what if…?  What if there were a huge amount of low density fresh water dumped into the North Atlantic where the high density water is supposed to be sinking, just like the giant Canadian lake crashing through the barrier of ice the Gore told us about?  This possibility is explored with computer models known as  “hosing experiments.”  In a hosing experiment a model that simulates the ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns is modified to artificially dump huge amounts of extra fresh water, as if from a giant hose, into some location in the ocean.   It has been found that when enough fresh water is forced in, the circulation can be slowed, but rarely stopped

How much fresh water do the hosing experiments use to nearly stop the thermohaline circulation?  Typically (or here), they use one million cubic meters of fresh water per second, for 100 years!!!  (One million cubic meters per second has its own unit name: One Sverdrup or 1 Sv).  How does 1 Sv compare to, say, the rate of water flowing over Niagara Falls?

Niagara falls168,000 cubic  meters of water fall over Niagara Falls every minute.  That is about 2,800 cubic meters of water per second.  So one Sverdrup of water is the same as about 350 Niagara Falls!  (1,000,000 / 2,800  = 357).  So, roughly speaking, if 350 Niagara Falls were dumped into the oceans around Greenland continuously for 100 years, then we could expect to see a significant slow down of the thermohaline circulation.

River systems discharging into the Arctic Ocean.

River systems discharging into the Arctic Ocean.

How does one Sverdrup compare to the freshwater discharge of ALL the rivers emptying into the arctic ocean?  One Sverdrup of fresh water amounts to nearly 32,000 km3 of water per year  (1 Sv  x 106 m3 s-1/sv x (86,400 s/day) x (365 day/year) = 31,536 km3/year).  The total fresh water discharge from all rivers into the arctic is only about 4,300 km3 per year.  So, typical hosing experiments that nearly stop the overturning circulation add a water volume about 7 times the amount of water from all rivers discharing into the Arctic Ocean combined.

What about Greenland?

Hosing copyGore ominously implies that the amount of fresh water needed to turn off the overturning circulation is just waiting to pour off of  Greenland, due of course (drum roll), to CO2 induced anthropogenic global warming.   His pictures of Greenland, shown above, imply that about half of Greenland’s 2.8 million cubic kilometers of ice have melted in the 13 years between 1992 and 2005.  This is wildly misleading.  Only a miniscule fraction of the area shown in Gore’s Greenland images actually melts every year.   This is evidenced by mass balance studies, which show Greenland loses on the order of hundred cubic kilometers of ice every year,  which translates into a measly 0.003 Sverdrups.

100 km3 /year= 1011 m3/year

(1011 m3/year) / (365 days/year) / (86,400 seconds/day)
             = 3 x 103 m3/second
             = 0.003 Sv

Put another way, one Sverdrup of fresh water is 86.4 km3/day.  So the hosing experiments pouring in one Sverdrup put about as much fresh water into the ocean each day (86.4 km3) as Greenland provides in a year (100 km3).

But if Greenland actually started melting, by some extraordinary circumstance,  300 times faster, then it would yield 1 Sverdrup, or 1,000,000 cubic meters, of fresh water every second.  What would happen after 100 years of melting at that rate?  Well, that’s a trick question, because at a melting rate that gives 1 Sverdrup of freshwater Greenland would run out of ice in about 90 years.  This is because Greenland has only 2.85 million cubic kilometers of ice, and one Sverdrup of water is the same as about 31,500 cubic kilometers of water per year.  Ignoring the difference in density between ice and water, then 2.85 million cubic kilometers divided by 31,500 cubic kilometers per year gives 90 years.

Conclusion

You don’t hear as much about the threat of the collapse to the thermohaline circulation today as you did a few years ago.  This is because it has become recognized as being a very far fetched possibility, even by most alarmists who want to maintain a shred of dignity.  But I have a feeling we will not see this wildly exaggerated threat removed from new editions of Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” anytime soon.

Return to Criticisms of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”