Category Archives: Climate

All things climate related.

And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die

Yesterday’s Twitter hissy fit over our use of a GBU-43/B MOAB in Afghanistan combined with the friction with North Korea, as reported in the amazingly well connected @KGSNightWatch, set me to thinking about quicker means for us to end ourselves than the slow roast we’ve already set in motion.

We had already detonated 2,053 nuclear weapons by 1998 but since the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty all tests have been underground, including the five North Korean tests that happened after this video ends.

We got plain scared by the results of the 1954 Castle Bravo test, a six megaton test that yielded fifteen, because we didn’t understand there was a fusion path for lithium 7, and only nine short years later the world decided air/space testing was a Really Bad Idea™.

 

Since then, we’ve shifted to constraining ourselves to developing stuff that inhibits others delivering weapons. Basically we have about three dozen Ground Based Interceptors on the west coast and the trend seems to be counting on Aegis Combat Systems and the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 to knock down uninvited ballistic missiles.

Missile Defense Systems

Missile Defense Systems

This missile defense stuff is all still really theoretical. Tests are few, expensive, and results have been mixed. We don’t really have a plan for submarine launched cruise missiles but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated whole classes of weapons.

But North Korea is not a signatory to any of these treaties and they are slowly standing up a nuclear capability. This happened while we were naming them part of the Axis of Evil and blundering into Bush’s adventure in Iraq. Like a Cape buffalo surrounded by lions, we focused on one and the others got up to things we didn’t see coming.

 

North Korea can’t nuke San Francisco. They can’t nuke Honolulu. They can maybe hit 7th Fleet HQ at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Their current best has a yield equal to the weapons the U.S. produced in 1945.

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike (NUKEMAP)

I have zero confidence that Little Fingers has the right moves given that the DPRK is surely going to test another nuclear weapon tomorrow. China has moved six divisions of troops to its border with North Korea with the announced intent of ensuring that there are not a flood of refugees crossing their border. They also have a credible plan to put an end to North Korea’s test facilities, which is something the U.S. and South Korea lack.

Another grandstanding effort, like the theatrical strike against a forewarned Syrian airfield, or the drop of a MOAB in Afghanistan, seems likely. The most foolish step would be treating this as a chance to employ a B-61 Dial-A-Yield nuke, specifically the B-61 Mod 11 bunker buster.

 

The assessment of the premier geopolitical threat monitor is simple and clear:

NightWatch concurs with the judgment that the North Koreans are not bluffing about retaliating for any kind of attack against them.

The scariest part of all of this? America’s recto-cranial inversion, which predates Little Fingers, keeps us strutting like the only superpower, but ignoring stuff where we don’t have a direct interface. The relationship between India (110 nukes) and Pakistan (130 nukes) is always some flavor of tense, but in recent months there have been reports in Night Watch that indicate they went right up to the red line of a rapidly evolving ground war and strong potential for an exchange.

Now take a look at this China-centric population cartogram.They have four neighbors with nuclear weapons, two are at each other’s throats, the U.S. is showing strong signs of moving against North Korea, and doing so because we have a leader as isolated and strange as Kim thanks to meddling from nuclear armed neighbor number four.

China-centric Population Cartogram

China-centric Population Cartogram

 

There is no such thing as a limited nuclear exchange where India and Pakistan are concerned. If they each show some restraint and only use half of their arsenals we lose half of our ozone layer, a couple years of Canadian and Russia wheat production, and the initial ten million killed directly would be joined by another billion famine victims.

These projections stop where the effects of smoke in the atmosphere end. A billion dead of starvation are the unlucky one seventh when all of us are facing that possibility. We are already precariously balanced when it comes to food, we lose all of the Mideast and North Africa in this scenario, those places teeter on the edge of ungovernability now when there are relatively minor disturbances in wheat supplies.

 

The area south of Africa’s Great Green Wall would be the best place to ride out such a catastrophe, far away from fallout of all sorts, from economic to political to radioactive.

Sobering, isn’t it? We already have the means to create an extinction level event for our species and we are stumbling that direction, led by a man with a psychopath’s regard for cause and effect.

Ellef Ringnes Island’s Fossil Methane Seeps

I often mention Wrangel Island, the last redoubt of the mammoths, and tonight I found another interesting article about a different location in the Arctic – Ellef Ringnes Island. Roughly 1,400 miles apart, this Canadian island holds fossils from the Cretaceous, the geological period ended by the Chicxulub Asteroid.

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Wrangel & Ellef Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Ellef & Amund Ringnes Islands

Isachsen Station

Isachsen Station

The only sign of human activity is a rough half mile runway, the remains of an Arctic weather station effort operated during the Cold War.

But there are much older things to be found here …

Fossil Methane Seep

Fossil Methane Seep

There are 130 fossil methane seeps scattered over 10,000 square kilometers, a legacy of a rapid release of methane about 110 million years ago. The formations are carbonates from the shells of animals that grew there, which are more durable than the shale that makes up the rest of the area.

Preserved evidence of methane outgassing at the same time over an area this size, combined with knowledge of the overall size of this shale layer, provides some sense of the scope of the sudden injection of a greenhouse gas 20x as potent as carbon dioxide. There are multiple instances where sudden releases have changed Earth’s climate dramatically in a geological blink of an eye, most notably the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maxium 55 million years ago.

 

This ancient event matters because it’s further proof that large areas can suddenly produce lasting flows of methane. Scientists have been fretting over methane hydrates and the Atlantification of the Arctic could create conditions for another massive outgassing. Signs of this already exist on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. Similar events have started in the Pacific and there are 500 methane plumes on the U.S. east coast. The East Siberian Shelf’s outgassing has been a concern for a while now.

It’s been a long time since a single species changed the atmospheric and oceanic chemistry to the point that it passed into history. The Great Oxygenation Event is clearest. Vascular plants and bacteria that couldn’t attack lignin are defining characteristics of the Carboniferous period. Other dramatic changes are attributed to large volcanic provinces and impact events.

What is happening now seems like it will be the beginning of something as disruptive as the PETM. The Quarternary had consistent 180ppm – 280ppm CO2, and now we’re at 400+ ppm and no way to predict how far that is going to go.

 

We’ve had four hundred generations in villages and just two to start considering what the climate change our species has induced is going to mean. I am in no way certain that Dark Mountain‘s ideas, the Eight Principles of Uncivilization, are going to work. I have spent a decade, one fifth of my life, pondering this progression, trying various ways to resist what I have come to accept is an unstoppable set of causes and conditions.

I shouldn’t be awake at 2:22 AM, but once I start down rabbit holes like this, I have a hard time finding my way back to the surface.

Salting Down Our Lakes & Streams

While the Persian Gulf is dealing with a 25% increase in salt concentration due to half a dozen desalination dependent states on its shores, the car crazy U.S. is salting lakes and streams as a result of clearing ice and snow. And this comes on top of wrecking groundwater with ill advised fracking for oil and gas.

Global Water Insecurity Cartogram

Words can not describe how maddening it is to watch us wreck a resource that, in the case of aquifers, will require another glaciation to cleanse.

I grew up in the far northwest corner of my home state, the region known as the Iowa Great Lakes. Wikipedia thinks it’s just Dickinson county but there are lakes in Clay, Emmet, and Palo Alto, too.

Marble Lake

Marble Lake

Among the over one hundred bodies of water in the four county area there are seventeen permanent islands. Four of those are in Virgin Lake, three are drowned bits of shore, one is an enormous pile of glacial erratics. This lake formed due to meltwater draining through a glacier, depositing the rock as it left.

Virgin Lake

Virgin Lake

Five Island Lake #4 Erratics

Five Island Lake #4 Erratics

The pile of glacial erratics in Virgin Lake is maybe two acres but it’s hard to photograph. This postage stamp sized island in Five Island Lake has less cover and shows its glacial erratic composition.

Ingham Lake Island

Ingham Lake Island

I can’t write without including a few pictures. I can’t write about fresh water without cruising my Flickr account. And once I do that my attachment to California’s mild climate melts away like Iowa snow in April. I want to go home, not just back to the farm, I want this ramp, that kayak, a second boat with camping gear to pull behind, and that island.

 

Erratic Wall

Erratic Wall

Most Iowa farm buildings are wood, but the farm where I grew up is now a century old and its buildings are clay block. This wall is a barn well off the main roads and it dates to the late 1800s. This 1895 farmhouse is now part of Peterson Point state park, just a few hundred yards from the ramp pictures above.

Peterson Point Farm House

Peterson Point Farm House

 

The kame and kettle topography of my home is less likely to change than other parts of the world, thanks to a large amount of water and a limited supply of people. The paved roads get salt in the winter but the vast majority are gravel laid out in Louisiana Purchase one mile grids.

There are wonders there, an oasis of some sort in every mile of gravel that spans the corn desert, but you’d need a native to find them, despite the regularity of the roads.

Tilted

Tilted

Great Barrier Reef Two Thirds Destroyed

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles starting at the northern tip of Australia and it covers an area the size of the state of Montana. There was serious bleaching due to the 1997 and 2002 El Niño events and now back to back bleaching in 2016 and 2017 has destroyed the northern two thirds.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

I cribbed that map from a dive site. Their offered locations are all in the destroyed areas and this highly public obituary for the reef is an obituary for their business. Tourism will crash immediately and fishing shortly thereafter, as fish species adjust to the massive disruption.

It’s not just the sea that has warmed; Australia’s heat got so bad a couple years ago they had to add a new color to their heat index.

Australia Drought

Australia Heat Index

There’s no relief in sight as the east has experienced record setting heat over the last quarter.

Australia Extreme Heat

Australia Extreme Heat

The reef based tourism is gone, but that is a domestic issue. How is all this heat going to affect the wheat crop? It would appear that things are going to go badly in the area that produces the bulk of the crop, and this can be a component of Global Wheat Threats. The last time we had one of those we got Arab Spring in response.

Australia Wheat

Australia Wheat

 

Part of the reason we got Arab Spring in 2011 was due to not just stress on global wheat supplies due to the year’s Russian fires and attendant wheat embargo. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan ruined summer grain crops.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

 

The overheated oceans that killed the Great Barrier Reef in 2016/2017 are also responsible for the record breaking monsoon in 2010 that led to revolution all over North Africa and the Mideast the following year. Visualize the 11,000 miles between Morocco and the Great Barrier Reef on a map. The loss of a reef that most of the world considered an exotic remote destination is a proxy for stuff that can cause trouble on a global scale.

Morocco, Pakistan & Great Barrier Reef

Morocco, Pakistan & Great Barrier Reef

Now consider what the USDA Wheat Outlook has to say:

The Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings report revealed 2017 winter wheat seedings to be the second-lowest on record and the lowest since 1909.

That sounds really bad, but maybe this sounds better to you …

Most notably, 2016/17 ending stocks are raised slightly more than 43 million bushels to 1143.4 million, the highest level since 1987/88, when ending stocks reached 1260.8 million.

 

But what does it mean in geopolitical terms? Stocks are up, global planting is down 9% from last year? Global stocks are up but there are 108 million people facing Food Insecurity in North Africa and the Mideast. There are about 400 million people in North Africa and around 325 million in the Mideast countries highlighted in the linked post. When 15% of the population are short of food that’s a recipe for big changes.

Global Wheat Status January 2017

Global Wheat Status January 2017

 

You guys are going to get tired of the phrase Functional Triage, but I’m going to keep coming back to it. Yemen’s Food & Water Crisis was noted as an issue clear back in 2013 and now it’s boiling over, with half the populace set to starve. Consult the Fragile States Index for 2016 and it looks like the beginnings of another perfect storm.

Atlantification & Other Horrors

Our species evolved from homo erectus, starting about 1.9 million years ago. That was 680,000 years into the Quarternary Period, which has featured glaciation on roughly hundred thousand year cycles and a number of impressive volcanic eruptions.

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

Quarternary Volcanic Activity

We are Children of Ice and Chaos

The defining characteristic of our species is flexibility; some of us land on our feet no matter how and where we get dropped. We turn up in the strangest of places, A Hundred Centuries Off, because we are collectively unstoppable. We walk around or through fire, ice, and wild beasts a hundred times our sizes, unless we stop to eat them.

And we’re about to experience some chaos of our own making, thanks to the Atlantification of the Eastern Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Ocean gets warmer the deeper you go, the inverse of every other ocean in the world. Only now this has happened:

In studying the data from the moorings, the researchers found that from the Atlantic, which has traditionally been separated from melting ice because of the halocline layer—a barrier that exists between deep salty water and fresher water closer to the surface—has been penetrating the barrier, allowing ice to melt from below. It has also led to the water becoming less stratified, like the Atlantic. They describe the changes as a “massive shift” in the ocean that has occurred over an extremely short time frame. These new findings may explain why the extent of ice coverage has been shrinking so dramatically—at a rate of 13 percent per decade.

Repeat after me: Whoops. We’re going to see the Last Of The Laurentide very shortly and Arctic summer sea ice seems likely to precede it into the land of fond memories much sooner.

 

We’ve had some epic last stands, none more so in our 200,000 years as modern humans as the Toba bottleneck. It hurts me a little to point at this near extinction of our species circa 70,000 BC and to not have the clean explanation of the Toba eruption. There is evidence in India that our species shrugged off the Toba effects, continuing to leave behind the same stone tools that appear before Toba’s ash layer. So something happened back then that nearly ended us, but we don’t really know what.

This time, here at the dawn of the Anthropocene, we’re going into another population bottle neck with at least some of our eyes wide open. We’re storing seeds and ice cores in safe paces and Dark Mountain has brought us Eight Principles Of Uncivilization. Love it or hate it, our species is getting ‘right-sized’.

I see some signs of hope. Graphene desalination. Perovskite solar cells. And a geo-engineering effort that isn’t total mad scientist material – Africa’s Great Green Wall. Simple, durable things are going to carry the day after the day our global supply chains are finally, irrevocably collapsed. I wrote Once & Future Cavemen but I don’t see Mars serving as Wrangel Island did for the mammoth.

 

We’re going to experience greater distances in the future, but it’s not going to be due to climbing out of our gravity well. Instead I see the Earth’s surface functionally stretching as oil supplies become more dear and climate change forbids any more carbon exhumation. We could afford epic battles spanning the Pacific seventy years ago. Let that much time pass again and we may be doing things more like the 1947 Kon-Tiki Expedition.

We only just figured out why Clovis points are so cool, despite the fact that our species literally rode into the Americas on the back of this durable style of arrow and spear head. We have so much to remember, both in the sense of rediscovering things like that, as well as not forgetting the massive cache of knowledge we now possess.

I promised horrors in the title, didn’t I? Just look at the sidebar and you’ll find some of the worst:

  • Yemen is a humanitarian crisis which we show no intention of every trying to solve, I believe this is an instance of Functional Triage.
  • We had a warm up for Yemen right at the end of the Cold War, in Somalia. Look to this country as the model for what can happen, and why we will prefer to steer clear.
  • The biggest word in the cloud, Syria, is also the biggest problem. Yemen is worse in environmental terms, but Syria is just right there in the middle of everything.
  • Libya is a primo example of the need to reign in NATO. This is a mess that didn’t need to be, much like the one caused by Bush’s adventure in Iraq.

To be completely clear, the problem isn’t Muslims, it’s western imperialism, religious fanaticism, and what that drives us to do. Maybe one day the U.S. will melt down its enormous carrier fleet to make gardening tools; our policeman of the world shtick has gotten really stale, and if we’re going to lead we should do it by example here.

 

Not that we’re going to do that mind you, our species learns the hard way, with handfuls of survivors studying the wreckage a bit, before they limp off to try something new.

Graphene v. Saline

Desalination Plant

Desalination Plant

I recorded a litany of woe from Phys.org regarding water but hadn’t really had the spark that leads to an article:

Most of what I have to say any more is about Functional Triage, but this is one of those rare moments where there is a glimmer of hope. Graphene Sieve Turns Sea Water Into Drinking Water is precisely the sort of news we need.

If you want to make drinking water out of sea water there are a variety of methods, which can be summed up as ‘boil & condense’ or ‘push through a filter’.  Graphene is the later variety and the reason it’s exciting are the questions of scale and energy input. If you can build a large plant cheaply, or a small system that works, that’s a win. If it takes much less energy than current reverse osmosis, that’s even better.

I haven’t seen any studies about the details, but I think it would be great if a city with nearby high ground could pump seawater up, using tides or wind energy, then the natural pressure of the gradient would be sufficient to produce drinking water at the base.

 

That middle article keeps drawing my eye. Our international food trade happens quickly – think fresh fruit year round by jet, and it happens slowly in bulk. Look at where we produce wheat and where we don’t have enough water per capita.

World Wheat Production

World Wheat Production

Global Water Insecurity Cartogram

And then finally, look at the fragile states index:

2016 Fragile States

2016 Fragile States

As global wheat trade changes, because oil is more dear, because irrigation water is exhausted, we come right back to Functional Triage. If we can start producing graphene desalination systems that work at nominal pressure, perhaps coupled with solar power or simple gravity pressure, that changes things in many places. It doesn’t fix the large scale winnners/losers problem, but it softens things along the margins, and that’s where humanity will survive in pockets.

Ocean Cores & Ice Cycles

While Arctic ice has been consistently breaking record low extents since the turn of the century, but the dynamics are different in Antarctica. This image shows sea ice extent in 1979. Recent sediment cores show that Antarctic ice filled and drained in cycles tied to our planet’s orbital eccentricity. The time during the Ogliocene and Miocene when this happened are not counted as ice ages, apparently due to a lack of a companion ice pack at the north pole.

Antarctica

Antarctica

There have been recent dramatic changes just prior to the Holocene, as this article shows.

To investigate the climate changes of the past, the scientists are studying drill cores from the eternal ice. Layer by layer, this frozen “climate archive” reveals its secrets to the experts. In previous studies, the scientists had found evidence of eight massive melting events in deep sea sediments around the Antarctic, which occurred at the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. Co-author Dr. Weber from the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn says: “The largest melt occurred 14,700 years ago. During this time the Antarctic contributed to a of at least three meters within a few centuries.”

Three meters rise in a few centuries? Drowning Indochina offered some ideas on what things would be like with the 20m of sea rise we can expect from our current 400ppm of CO2.

Half of us live near the coast. We will not have the diesel required to rebuild what we have now above the rising seas. Familiar Biological Pumps are degraded or shut down completely, and there may be new ones arising that we have not characterized yet.  I went looking and I have not yet written anything substantial on ocean acidification, but it’s a serious issue.

 

I really love Phys.org for the caliber of articles presented on a daily basis. No matter what you are searching, there will be articles, often with links to peer reviewed science on the subject. In a world where spin trumps fact, such dedication to objective reality is a great comfort.

And at the same time, it’s crushingly depressing. We are going to be forced to start Functional Triage soon. There are places on this planet like Somalia, Syria, and Yemen that are going to get down to their carrying capacity and the process is not pleasant to observe from a distance.  I don’t want that to be read as Islamophobic – I think Las Vegas is in an equally precarious position, as is much of the Colorado river’s watershed.