Category Archives: Global Warming

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.

Africa’s Great Green Wall

Here’s a spot of good news. I have seen articles about low key plant based geo-engineering, but I didn’t realize it was so advanced. There is a Great Green Wall being built in an effort to hold back the rapidly advancing Sahara.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

The numbers cited in the brochure on the project are encouraging:

  • 500,000 hectares of Acacia woodlands restored in Burkina-Faso, Senegal, and Niger
  • 5,000,000 hectares of farmland rehabilitated in Mali, Burkina-Faso, Niger, and Ethiopia
  • $1 billion invested in Sahel & West Africa Program

The last time I can recall a quoted figure in a documentary, I believe the Sahara was advancing south in the Sahel at a rate of ten miles per year. Climate change will continue to drive that advance, but if it can be slowed by wiser practices across tens of thousands of square miles, that is a good thing.

The Sahara is a major feature on a large continent and it’s also a global climate force, cooling the Iberian peninsula, fertilizing the Atlantic, and impacting air quality in the Caribbean. Best of all, from my perspective, the dust drives California snowfall.

The most interesting effect of the dust is this – when it was less, the warming of the Atlantic drove a stronger monsoon, which kept the Sahara wetter – a positive feedback loop.

I’ve covered ice cores here and the more I look the more I find mention of sediment cores, such as the one that exposed the details of the end of the African Humid Period.

 

Climate is complex and I would argue that it is the existential threat for our species, in conjunction with our inability to maintain our population at a sensible level. The Great Green Wall is a rear guard defense, but it’s a line of defense for South Africa, our species theoretical redoubt during the Toba Catastrophe. Keep in mind that while the Toba theory has been debunked, our species did survive a genetic bottleneck, and there are signs that the refuge was the costal caves near Cape Town.

African Corn, American Pest

Fall Army Worms have been causing havoc with crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana while reports suggest Malawi, Mozambique and Ghana are also affected. The linked article indicates they have been found in Uganda, too.

“If nothing is done we could lose up to 15 percent of our maize production,” said senior agriculture minister official Okasai Opolot.

Roughly 10% of Uganda’s 38 million people are involved in corn production and 10 million are already underfed. I can’t make out exactly what percentage of the national diet is corn, but other crops are affected, too.

There are 1.2 billion people in Africa and two thirds of them are in the south. Subsistence agriculture is the rule, a 15% decrease in crops wouldn’t mean the death of 120 million, but I do think that’s a number of appropriate magnitude.

Africa Climate Zones

Africa Climate Zones

Africa Population Distribution

Africa Population Distribution

120 million dead sounds awful, but recall that we are approaching an inevitable round of Functional Triage.  Instead of that, lets consider the future of the 680 million survivors.

 

Africa is rich in resources, not well developed, and the south has already dealt with a massive long term plague – AIDS. Much of Africa can still be self sufficient, not just growing the food they need, but locally manufacturing what other goods they require. If the U.S. loses 15% of its population, things here come undone. If our national supply chain is interrupted even briefly, in just a matter of days machines and people all begin to break down.

There IS a correlation between level of development and societal preservation, but I think the relationship is inverse. Most people in Africa grow their own food, or they know the people who do. That hasn’t been at all true in this country since the Silent Generation were young adults.

Look at that climate map. Look at the population distribution map. There are six high density population centers and four of them are in the south. The Nile’s Annual Flood is already under climate driven threat, North Africa exploded into Arab Spring in 2011, and I paid some attention to The Simmering Maghreb. Nigeria is being slowly torn apart by Boko Haram. Ethiopia had massive famine in the 1980s, the African Great Lakes suffered horrendous ethnic cleansing during the 1990s.

South Africa has had its troubles, the South African Border War from the 1960s through the end of the Cold War, their own internal struggle with Apartheid. But among the BRICS countries it is they and the Brazilians who are geographically and culturally isolated from the conflicts that entangle and plague the other three. Like Wrangel Island for the mammoths, South Africa was a redoubt for our species during the Toba Eruption, some 70,000 years ago.

 

If there is any place on this planet where some portion of industrialized western capability can be preserved, it is South Africa, even ahead of climate advantaged and preparation minded Scandinavia, which is too close to Europe and Russia to avoid being dragged in to their conflicts.

 

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.