Saturday, 9 January 2016

What does the future hold?

I never would have thought that within a space of three months my opinion to a topic could be so drastically altered. At the start of these posts, I was like many of you, concerned about the future consequences of greenhouse gas emissions of the rate of the melting world, but only events such as COP21 and my own investigation on certain topics has highlighted the exact rate which we are currently facing. I believe that if something isn't done which will drastically reduce the amount of atmospheric CO2, glaciers will be a feature of the past within 100 years. Likewise can be said to Greenland and Antarctic but on a longer time scale. Having spent months researching glaciers and Arctic environments, I cannot express how they truly are wonders of the world, and the thought that they may dissapear knowing that future generations may never get to experience what I have somewhat upsets me.

An increasingly common issue seen in alpine regions. Photo taken during my dissertation at the snout of the Findel glacier.

We are entering into an era where the rate of CO2 emissions far exceeds that of any paleo record. The issue with this is that the rate and intensity of the climate feedbacks may have further drastic impacts including sea level rise, population displacement, and loss of cultural heritage to name a few. I believe it is now up to us to try and save the melting world. Yes we are in a current interglacial, so naturally the ice will melt, but not at the rates we are seeing today. Lets try and preserve these landscapes for as long as possible before the picture above becomes far too regular. Ways on how to slow this down? well I believe for most of the alpine glaciers it is too late. If we want to save what remains, including the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, we need to stop the current rate of emissions now, with potential for further geoengineering, yet further investigation is still needed before we engineer our planet any further than we currently have.

So I leave you with the photo below, what I believe really sums up the current state of glacial environments, beautiful, unstable and retreating. Hopefully future generations will get to experience the same as what I luckily have!

The current retreating snout of the Findel Glacier, taken during my dissertation in the Swiss Alps.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

A Freak Heatwave Has Struck The North Pole!

I saw this article on social media today (link found here) which has shown that the temperature at the North Pole hit a record high this year reaching 0 degrees Celsius, tinkering on the edge of the melting point. The cause of this is due to two reasons: 1) a low pressure mass which has moved through the U.S. and Europe and a high pressure mass around Siberia, and 2) harsh winter cyclones over the North Atlantic. As people who reside in the UK, this winter has be far from cold, along with wave after wave of devastating storms, storm Frank being the latest. The combination of the two reasons mentioned has meant warm air has been drawn up through southern Europe and Africa into higher latitudes causing warmer conditions. It is not only the North Pole which has noticed warmer temperatures, but the Alps have seen one of the driest and mildest seasons on record leading to poor snow conditions and glacial melt throughout the winter months.

Drastic Arctic melt is expected to continue if conditions don't change. Photo source

Now is this a sign of global warming, or just a sign of atmospheric instability and natural variability? Personally I believe its a combination of both, with average Arctic temperatures increasing (my last two blog posts), and in general, northern hemisphere ice masses retreating. On top of this, the weather systems the UK and the U.S. have been struck by is uncertain whether this is natural variability or the cause of climate change, we may know in the near future if these events continue.

Monday, 4 January 2016

The unreported impact on local indigenous tribes

It has been somewhat neglected in science and in political climate talks, including COP21, of the impact climate change is having on indigenous tribes in both polar and alpine environments. The tribes rely on the ice as both a source of fresh water and in polar regions, a platform for hunting. So what regions are being hit the hardest in regards to indigenous tribe daily life?

"Change has come to the Arctic", Article and source by Jess Worth 

The UN are one of the only bodies which acknowledge the impacts of the melting world on impacting indigenous people. In a report titled "Climate Change and Indigenous People" issues were highlighted with the melting world on impacting daily norms which are becoming increasingly difficult. The summary of impacts is as followed:

  • In the high attitudinal Himalayas, fresh water has shown a decrease over the long run, with rapid abrupt increase on the short term due to rapid glacial and snow melt during the summer months. This posses a threat of water insecurity in the near future. Furthermore, if glaciers fully retreat, large volumes of available freshwater will be removed, forcing tribes to relocate into manageable regions.
  • Indigenous people in the high Arctic rely on the ice to hunt, a major source of income and food. As mentioned in my last post, the Arctic sea ice extent fell in 2014 into the sixth lowest ice mass ever recorded in the instrumental record. This ultimately means that both polar bears and seals which use the ice as shelter and as a hunting ground will no longer be accessible to sea ice hunters when the ice has retreated. Transport links through sledges are already being seen to break up sooner in the year with melt water blocking passages across the ice.
  • In high Scandinavia, tribes rely on cold winter temperatures to allow moss and lichen to grow for the reindeer's to eat. Without these colder winter temperatures, the reindeer livestock is expected to plummet, again a major source of food and economic income for the tribes.
The sad issue that encompasses this topic is that the indigenous tribes contribute the least to global climate change, yet are at the forefront of battling the effects of it without the technology to fight against it. If rates of global warming do not slow over the coming centuries, a large part of global culture will be lost. Little is currently being done to prevent this, and its only a matter of time until the indigenous tribes of the cryosphere will have to relocate.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Antarctic: Is the ice growing back?

The year of 2014 baffled the science community. It is expected that with the warming planet due to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the cryosphere will ultimately pay the price. It has been seen in the extent of the Arctic sea ice agrees with this statement, with the summer extent of 2014 falling into the 10 lowest extents ever recorded in the instrumental record, but what got the scientists baffled then? Surprisingly, the Antarctic ice extent was the largest ever recorded in 2014. The sea ice extent of Antarctica reached a staggering 7.72 million square miles, with the Arctic sea ice only reaching 1.94 million square miles. So what's going on then?

Image source: NASA

Well its quite understandable for not only the climate sceptics but for the general public to assume that if the ice is growing to levels never recorded before that global warming is not occurring, especially if the data is provided by a reputable source such as NASA. During 2014 it was unknown what was causing this (See video below), but today, it is thought to be the cause of global warming! Surprising though it may seem, the global warming is the cause of the sea ice growth in the Antarctic. As many people know, the Antarctic consists of both land ice up to 3km thick and an abundance of sea ice which surrounds the land. Due to the increase of global temperatures, the terrestrial ice has begun to melt, increasing the amount of freshwater flushed into the southern ocean. The large amount of freshwater added into the ocean system has meant that the salinity of the regional sea has decreased, and thus, chemistry 101, water with lower salinity freezes more readily and at warmer temperatures. This extent of the sea ice is not showing that global warming is not occurring, but in fact, its showing a sign that global warming in the high southern latitudes is having a greater effect of terrestrial melt than ever recorded.  

The video below is provided by NASA. The video was released in 2014 so the understanding of why this was occurring was not understood. the video does highlight the importance of monitoring the sea ice of both poles.

However, could this actually slow the effects of global warming by increasing the albedo? That is something we will have to monitor in the coming years.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Are we going to save the worlds "ice-cubes" according to COP21?

Well after a stressful month of both work, family and of course Christmas, I have been writing blogs but not yet posted them, but don't worry climate enthusiasts, they will be coming over the next few days!

To start with, I want to continue on fro my last blog post, is COP21 really going to help the cryosphere? For those that are unsure of what COP21 aimed to achieve, check my previous blogs OR you can watch this simple video of the overview of COP21.

Obviously, attempting to come to a global binding agreement with nearly 200 nations, with lets be honest, some people who really don't like each other is difficult by any means, but the overall outcome is that it appears we have taken a step in the right direction in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in aim or reducing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

However, will COP21 really help in saving the remaining ice on this planet? In my opinion, I simply feel its too little too late for the alpine glaciers and Arctic sea ice due to their volatility to slight increases in temperature. It was only in early 2000's that no Swiss glaciers were recorded to be advancing and only 5% of glaciers in Italy were growing. Even a 2 degree increase in global temperatures has been proposed to impact higher altitudes greater than previously expected. From my dissertation research in Switzerland, it was clear that glaciers are extremely sensitive to any warming as increased melt water increases the rate of glacial ablation. Because of this, I believe that COP21 will not help alpine glaciers as the warming is still going to occur. If we want to save the worlds alpine glaciers, warming needs to stop sooner rather than later.

The Arctic sea in my opinion faces the same fate. Arctic sea ice has undergone dramatic changes in recent year, including thinning of the ice pack, reduction in ice area coverage, and record minimum September ice cover. It is suggested by Holland et al. (2006) and Lindsay and Zhang, (2005) that we have reached a "tipping point" where positive feedback's lead to a continuous reduction in Arctic sea ice extent. Even if we managed to miraculously reduce warming to the 2 degree level, the Arctic Ice will still retreat until eventually gone due to these positive feedback loops including albedo.

So with it clear that Alpine and Arctic sea ice is still likely to disappear over the next century, warming reductions cannot save these ice masses, and the melting world just worsens with each passing day.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

COP21: The outcome

COP21 has finally ended. After two weeks of global negotiations between nearly 200 nations, a final agreement has been finalised and signed. This may sound all well and good, but how effective was COP21? and where do we need to improve?

So, the aim of COP21 was to reduce global emissions to a safe and manageable level, in order that the mean global temperature doesn't exceed a 2 degrees centigrade increase by the end of the century. I have some bad and good news for you. If the nations abide by their promises, the predicted global increase in temperature will decrease by only 0.9 degrees centigrade to 2.7 degrees centigrade. This can be seen as a monumental step towards the right direction, and is crucially a historic step to dealing with an issue which could have been much worse.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Hollande (Image: Reuters)
Celebrations between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and French President Hollande after the deal was made. Source: BBC News

Some countries who attended COP21 debated that a stricter target should be in place of 1.5 degrees centigrade, however, to what extent this is achievable is questionable as we have already reached the 1 degree increase boundary.

From what it seems, politicians appear to be extremely happy with the agreement with Obama stating " Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one”, "What matters is today we can be confident that this planet will be in better shape for the next generation and that is what I care about". However, this is not in agreement with environmentalist such as the WWF who believe action should be taken quicker.

But how much of the agreement is binding? And how much funding is proposed to be raised?

Now the agreement is not what people first though it would be. Unfortunately, it is not all legally binding. Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now boldly stated that "Nothing is binding". In my opinion, he's not far wrong. The targets set by the nations are not binding under COP21 but submitting an emissions reduction target and regular reviews of that goal will be binding. Observers of COP21 said that what happened this year was one of the reasons why Copenhagen failed in 2009.

However, I believe that the media presence and with the global eye on COP21, this agreement has shown solidarity between nations to overcome an issue which is ultimately effecting us all.

In part II, I will go into detail about the money raised and where it will go, and fundamentally, how will it help in slowing the melting world?

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sea Level Rise: Time to learn how to swim!

With COP21 now fully under way, hopefully a global plan in the reduction in CO2 emissions to a safe and manageable level is currently being made. However, what if COP21 doesn't reach the necessary cuts to emissions? What will happen to the melting world if these cuts aren't made and can we adapt? 

It is well understood that the scientific community acknowledges that anthropogenic emissions are speeding up the processes of global warming. But what I didn't know until a recent piece of coursework I undertook is the vast extent of literature which backs up this idea. I could give you links to all the academic research which proves this but the list is endless, the two links above show the most relevant papers in my eyes which provide compelling cases to prove that humans are a large cause of global warming through the increased carbon emissions. 

GCMs Showing the future potential seal level rise by NASA

Behind increasing global temperatures, the next biggest consequence of anthropogenic warming is increased ea level rise. Stefan Rahmstorf  predicts that sea level rise could reach 1.4m by 2100, but to give you an idea of the damage this will cause this global sea level rise map shows dramatic impacts to coastal and estuarine environments globally, with a large proportion of the north west coast of continental Europe underwater. 

You may be thinking that 1.4m sea level rise isn't bad at all, but if all the land and sea ice melts, it is predicted global seas will rise by 70m. This is what we are heading towards if we don't stop the current rates of global warming on our planet, and this will impact more than just coastal and estuarine environments. Most of the southern states of North America would be under water, Half of Europe would be flooded, the UK would be mostly underwater, and those pacific islands everyone likes to honeymoon to? well they will by a scuba diving relic at 220 feet deep. I have already used this but National Geographic produced a shocking interactive sea level rise map showing the regions which would be inundated if the global ice melted. It really is shocking. 

So all I want to say to the leaders at COP21, please try and sort out an agreement to stop this future drastic impact of sea level rise or it will be all of us paying the price.