Category Archives: Climate

All things climate related.

Not Just Ice Cores, Here Is A Dead Sea Salt Core

Under the Dead Sea, warnings of dire drought jumped right at me off the Phys page.

Dead Sea Salt Core

Dead Sea Salt Core: below the seabed, drilling revealed thick layers of salt, precipitated out during past warm, dry periods. In this specimen, transparent crystals (left) formed on what was then the bottom during winter; finer white ones (right) formed on the water surface in summer and later sank. Credit: Yael Kiro/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

The salt core was drilled in 2010 and is now receiving renewed, deeper scrutiny. During interstadial periods the Mideast becomes drier, so much so that inflows of fresh water into the Dead Sea largely stop. We’re not that dry yet, but human use of the Jordan River has effectively accomplished the same thing.

Jordan is developing the Disi aquifer and there is a Red to Dead canal planned.  The Saudis have long tapped that water for local agriculture in a foolhardy bid for food security that runs counter to the natural resources they have at their command. Jordan is engaged in a rear guard action for land that will inevitably become desiccated.

 

This triptych gives as sense of the progression of events in the Dead Sea. The south of the sea is shallow and has been steadily overtaken by human construction. Current practices involve the annual removal of two million tons of potash (potassium chloride) and other salts. You should recognize potash as a precursor for one of the three key plant fertilizers, potassium. It is the least concern of the three in terms of being a Liebig Minimum.

Dead Sea Salt & Potash Production

Dead Sea Salt & Potash Production

 

Bodies of water in the area drain and fill naturally as a consequence of Earth’s glacial cycles. There is a somewhat controversial theory, the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis, that is thought to be an explanation of the origin of various great flood myths in the region.

The Mediterranean Sea has experienced similar events – the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the Zanclean Flood that restored the sea to its current condition. There are cores from both the Black and Mediterranean seas, but they do not receive the same level of attention that ice cores do.

Four and a half years ago I published Why Gaza Is Screwed, a review of the water supply issues faced there. This is a ticking bomb for foreign policy, a pool of 1.6 million climate refugees just waiting to happen. The entire arc from West Africa to the Indus river valley faces this problem.

 

North of the Dead Sea is the Sea of Galilee, home to the Ohalo archeological site, which was occupied 8,000 years before North America’s Blackwater Draw. Humans hunted, gathered, and apparently performed early experiments with agriculture, inhabiting the site for a few generation before a fire of unknown origin leveled the simple huts. This site was revealed thanks to an epic drought in the late 20th century.

The Denisovans and Neanderthals were already gone except for their imprint on our genetics when that site was inhabited. Humans are now so pervasive and mobile that it will be difficult to track anything based on  genetics, but the Anthropocene is going to feature a massive cull of our species. What comes next? Maybe homo futurae, two thirds of our average height today, so they’ll tolerate the heat, digging into our species’ massive middens a hundred thousand years from now, wondering why we weren’t better at understanding our place in the web of life.

Last Of The Laurentide

The last of the six ice ages Earth experienced is the Quarternary, lasting the prior 2.58 million years. Understand what an ice age is – a period in which the poles have ice caps, not a period when we see glaciers in temperate latitudes. Those are stadials, and the last time we had those glaciers was during the Younger Dryas, which ended about 12,000 years ago. One of the periodic ice sheets in North America was the Laurentide.

And researchers have found the last of the Laurentide, that solid white spot in the middle of Baffin Island is the Barnes Ice Cap.

Baffin Island

Baffin Island

This five hundred meter thick sheet has just three centuries left at our current 400 ppm of CO2.

I wonder if that last little patch of ice will be a redoubt for reindeer or polar bear/grizzly hybrids, the way Wrangel Island was for the mammoths. That’s ten generations in our future, but it’s the blink of an eye in geological terms.

I don’t know that a Barnes Ice Cap core will be joining the others in the ice core vault at Antarctica’s Concordia Station, but it seems quite likely.

There are a variety of markers that are cited as the start of the Anthropocene, often the radionuclides from the Trinity test in 1945 being the first solid entry in the geological record. The lost of this last bit of the Laurentide will surely be an important milestone in the early centuries of this fearsome new age.

 

 

First A Seed Vault, Now Ice Cores

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a sort of Noah’s ark for plants, seeds from 300 species are preserved there in the event that we have some sort of global issue that threatens our food supply.

I just learned there is a similar storage facility for ice cores at the French-Italian base at Concordia.

Concordia Station

Concordia Station

Concordia Station Map

Concordia Station Map

The program started in 2015 at Grenoble and it aims to provide durable storage for ice cores even if a worst case 10C of warming hits.

There will be cores from the ice sheets, massive records spanning up to 900,000 years. The mountain glacier cores are shorter, just 100m to 150m, and they should be more numerous than the more demanding to obtain ice sheet cores. Each provides local climate history insight, including both gas bubbles and particulates.

Preserving the seed stock is a simple, easily understandable move. The motivation for keeping the ice cores in the face of unstoppable warming requires a little more thought. Maybe one day soon Mother Nature will utterly crush climate change denialism and we’ll suddenly have need of what those cores can reveal.

I remember another time when humans collected ice for snowballs, laughing and playing, each of them not understanding that they had reached a point of no return.

Titanic Sinking

Titanic Sinking

 

Record Heat Sans El Niño

The smallest posts on Phys.org are often the most terrifying.

Even without an El Nino warming the world’s waters, Earth in February sizzled to its second hottest temperature on record, behind only last year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated that February 2017 averaged 55.66 degrees (13.08 degrees Celsius). That’s 1.76 degrees (.98 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average.

It was also the second hottest winter in the on record. Records go back to 1880.

In the past, Earth doesn’t come near record heat if there’s no El Nino. This year it did—on every continent.

NOAA climate scientist Ahira Sanchez-Lugo called it clear evidence of .

She calculated that the rate of February warming since 1980 is twice as high as since 1880.

July of 2016 was the hottest individual month on record. Just prior to that we had the hottest eleven month streak on record. There are two kinds of reports now – abnormally warm, and extraordinarily abnormally warm.

Previously in Liebig’s Red Line I noted that not only do biological systems have resource constraints, but technical systems do, too. If we were wise we’d be hustling as hard as possible to convert all air conditioning requirements in this country to solar, given that the need matches the production curve. The other big benefits are that solar is naturally distributed, it’s a source of heat for cool, but sunny days, and best of all it produces electricity without requiring cooling water.

California got a reprieve last month in the form of record setting rains, and then we got another reprieve in the form of the Oroville emergency spillway holding despite the stress. Had it failed the top 30′ of the largest reservoir in the state would have come out all at once. The evacuation of nearly 200,000 Butte county residents was deemed a necessary precaution. Now we sit and wait and hope that this early fill is enough, given that the heat is going to quickly drain our natural storage in the Sierra snow pack.

Oroville Spillway

Oroville Spillway. It’s supposed to be a long, straight chute full of water.

 

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse

West Antarctic Glaciers

West Antarctic Glaciers

There have been a steady drum beat of reports about the West Antarctic ice sheet, like this, and this. The news is pretty clear – four feet of sea level rise from this event alone, but playing out over the next 200 to 900 years, and another ten feet of sea level rise after that from other ice being exposed to the sea. Greenland will let go in about the same timeframe, adding another twenty feet. Here is a nice map that permits you to examine what 13m of sea level rise does to your favorite coastal city.

This article in The Hill glosses over the closure of the CIA’s Center on Climate Change and National Security. The recto-cranial inversion wing of the Republican party forced its closure as a matter of their unshakable faith that climate change is just another big conspiracy they’ve discovered. I used to worry about this, but I have decided that after Katrina, Sandy, Cyclone Gonu, Typhoon Haiyan, and a hundred other coldest/hottest/driest/wettest ever events I can simply wait for Mother Nature to hammer home the message in an undeniable fashion.

What does this mean for U.S. foreign policy?

We are loathe to admit it, but the United States is an imperial power, and after nearly 250 years with only a single major discontinuity, we are an elderly, tottering hegemony on its final legs. All empires die, even the isolated Egyptians seldom saw dynasties last more than two centuries without some sort of upheaval. Unfortunately another common characteristic of dying empires is that their elites, insulated from reality by luxury and layers of sycophants, will make exactly the wrong choices, because they can not envision a world where they don’t matter.

The United States will wake up from this eventually, but not as an empire, instead I expect us to have an experience like the Soviet Union did in the 1990s. There is a place in the Ukraine where hundreds of tanks, including the newer T-72 and T-80, are slowly rusting away. The Russian Navy deals with everything from sailors dying due to complications from malnutrition to narrowly averted meltdowns when dock side power is cut to idle submarines due to nonpayment of bills.

I am not going to rehash The Marine Corps Liability, it will suffice to say that we’re building systems today meant to solve problems we haven’t faced in two generations, and it isn’t just the Corps that is doing this, they just happened to be the example I picked that day. I expect we’ll hit some sort of financial pitfall and we’ll flip from building things we don’t need to maintaining systems we can’t afford to deploy. The Russians got bit hard by this one, particularly in submarines. The U.S. hasn’t lost a boat since 1968, but accidents for the poorly maintained Russian subs and their un-experienced crews have been all too regular.

Our soft power will still be considerable even if we do take a major financial tumble, but we’re starving diplomacy for the sake of military expenditures. The State Department’s budget is about the same as black ops, but we’ve doubled covert expenditures while slashing State’s money by a fifth. Benghazi happened in 2012 in large part thanks to an 18% budget cut the year before, which lead to RSOs (regional security officers) who didn’t speak Arabic rotating in and out of that post every thirty days. Some rotation of new staff for the sake of experience is a good move, in the case of Benghazi it was all of them, and the discontinuity was part of the deadly mix. Repairing the diplomatic damage from our adventure in Iraq will take a generation, that clock only starts ticking once we can admit we made a terrible error, and this will not come for free.

We didn’t intervene in Syria because the Russians vetoed that. We tried something terribly cheeky in the Ukraine and it backfired on us badly. I don’t watch the Pacific Rim more closely than reading Night Watch and ten months ago I assumed we were upgrading B-52s in preparation for a Cold War style standoff. I have discarded that assumption.

We’ve barely begun to process the sting of Russia saying ‘no’ and making it stick. What will we do when our first and second largest sovereign debt holders get into direct conflict over offshore oil and gas? Don’t answer unless you can factor in the absolute certainty of the initial premise of this post – anthropogenic global warming isn’t a hoax, and it’s not even a theory any more, it’s a grim reality. Mother Nature consistently offers three choices: move, adapt, or die.

A final thought. The white ones are the places the British Empire never invaded. Where are the British now?

British Invasion

British Invasion

Cyclone Tamara Strikes Balkans

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Normally this would be a heartwarming sight – baby boy gets a very exciting helicopter ride, army comes back later by boat for the parents. But this child is in Bosnia, his parents survived the Breakup of Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War of 1991-1995, and the blood didn’t really stop flowing in the region until the irredentist center of the highly theoretical Greater Serbia was smashed flat by NATO during 77 days of Operation Noble Anvil in 1999.

Nothing is ever simple in the Balkans, and these maps should help you visualize why this is the case:

Christian Europe slowly fought off the Muslim Ottoman Empire …

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

The Austro-Hungarian map completely ignores the presence of Muslim Bosniaks in the Balkans, primarily in Bosnia. Here they are in 1992, just as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia really got going …

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

And here they are in 2000, after consolidation of ethnic groups into their respective regions. I really wish I could find before and after maps from the same source, but it’s hard to find two from different sources that agree on territory at any given point in time, let alone a good sequence.

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

It can be argued that Operational Noble Anvil was the final dying gasp of the Cold War. Their patience exhausted by the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, in which Serbian tried to remove the 90% ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, all of the NATO countries, with the exception of next door neighbor Greece, gathered a thousand aircraft, and conducted 38,000 sorties against the Serbs. Future war criminal Slobodan Milošević refused to back down until the United Kingdom produced the first 10,000 of 50,000 soldiers they planned to commit to ground operations.

The final score for Yugoslavia was: Slovenia broke away, the Croats quickly taught the Serbs to mind their own business, Bosnia was a grinding, bloody mess treated by the world as an internal dispute, and when the Serbs made a move on Kosovo NATO made sure it was their last adventure in the region.

Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia are as much a part of Europe as poor countries with a recent civil war behind them can be. Serbia remains a lone outpost for Russian influence in the region … and now you can see where a climate disaster that hits both Bosnia and Serbia might be seen as a contest between NATO countries and Russia. Eleven months ago I noted that the U.S. has some new Balkan Bases. Serbia is there, hidden under the legend.

Balkans U.S. Bases

Balkans U.S. Bases

Per Wikipedia, the initial response to the 2014 Southeast Europe floods have been broad and generous – the U.N., the E.U. and 34 countries have all provided some sort of aid. The overall damage from this Mediterranean cyclone is enormous.

Pakistan’s Greatest Peril

The news from Pakistan’a Gilgit-Balistan province is grim:

  • 30% of normal snowfall
  • November to March snow was observed before 1994
  • Snows came only January & February 2014
  • March melt is four to six weeks early
  • Water is already gone by May planting time

This province is in the far north of Pakistan, part of the small area that gets snow.

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

Pakistan Snowfall Areas

The country is subject to monsoon rains between June and September, but centered on six weeks in July and August. The cooler, higher altitude areas get the bulk of the precipitation.

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Indian Ocean Normal Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

Pakistan 2012 Monsoon

But on just one night in 2010 this happened, leaving 20% of Pakistan under water.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

Various stories can be found indicating the per capita water availability in Pakistan is 20% of what it was when they achieved independence in 1947. These stories neglect to mention population – which has more than quintupled in that time.

Pakistan Population

Pakistan Population

Pakistan’s elected government has been taken over by the army three times starting in 1958 and these takeovers last an average of eleven years. The recent assassination of Hamid Mir, a GeoTV journalist, and the TV network’s immediate blaming of Inter-Services Intelligence are seen as signs that 2014 may see another coup.

A military government can quash dissent and push through unpopular but necessary adaptive infrastructure, like a dam that will flood part of one valley for the sake of stabilizing a region. The problem is that Pakistan already has a couple of domestic insurgencies and countering violence today will take precedence over civil engineering projects that will not contribute immediately to stability.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and couple of the former Soviet stans, along with Iran itself are part of a geographic region the Persian empire called Parthia, but which we now call Greater Iran. Click through that link and you’ll find a similar story about Iran, which stands to have 45 million of their population of 75 million become climate refugees(!)

Greater Iran

Greater Iran

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

Scythia & Parthia 100BC

The Soviet Union blundered into a war of attrition with Afghan tribes in 1979 and this was a big factor in their collapse in 1991. Just eleven years after Afghanistan’s most recent imperial kill, the United States, as sure of democracy as the Russians were of communism, marched right into the same trap. The United States has not collapsed outright just yet, but the economic malaise at home and our shaky grasp on foreign affairs are clear signs of what is to come.

This entire region is over carrying capacity. This should be both the first and last thought when considering any long term plans. India, Russia, and Turkey will bear the brunt of this and they are the ones who are in a position to do something. The days of unilateral U.S. action are over. If you want to make predictions for the region look at precipitation and the price of staple foods such as wheat, because they matter in ways that ideology and rhetoric can never match.