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.    

Friday, 13 November 2015

Are we already geoengineering our planet?

So here I am again, sitting in the same library as in my last post and all my mind seems to do in this place in wander! Looking out the window at the massive storm which just went over our heads got me really thinking about how we can help intervene in climate change through a process called geoengineering.

Now I recently had a seminar at University discussing this topic in a great amount of depth and one question which has really stuck with me is 'Are we already geoengineering our planet?'. Obviously my first thought was no. We don't have any sci-fi type giant mirrors in space reflecting the suns light, we aren't putting chemicals into our atmosphere to reflect the suns radiation.....or are we?

The matter of the fact that with the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we are currently producing, we are ultimately obliviously undergoing geoengineering of our climate system. We are putting chemicals into our earth system which is having a knock on effect to the rest of the Earth's climate dynamics and changing the environment around us. The largest changes are arguably being seen around ice masses, especially with Northern Sea Ice retreat and the rapid decline in the extent of worldwide mountain glaciers.

So before you ask if we need to start geoengineering our planet to help prevent climate change, we already are, and it is arguably the cause of all of our problems we face right now.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

COP21: What is the significance? - Part III

As I am writing this, I'm sitting inside one of the biggest libraries in the UK, completely oblivious to what's going on in the world outside me at this very minute. All I currently have on my mind is what is going through the minds of the members attending COP21 and how are they going to help reduce climate change? Well I guess we will just have to wait and see because in just under a month, COP21 will be over, and a possible binding agreement may be in place for the leading nations to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions....finally!

If you want to know more about COP21 and their plans, please look at part I and II of this blog post.

So with potential to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions to a safe and manageable level, it could be expected that global warming rates will begin to slow in the future and the overall damage to this planet can be mitigated.

So what happens to the ice if global rates of warming are reduced?

Well its safe to say that no one actually knows. One fact is for sure though, the carbon we have emitted through the burning of fossil fuels is already in our system and, safe to say, its difficult to remove it. The damaging gases which have already been emitted have cemented their position within the earth system and it will be thousands of years until the CO2 levels will eventually fall back to safe levels. Carbon is now stuck in our system forever unless we remove it.. So unfortunately for the ice, its fighting a losing battle. Realistically, we are still going to lose a large amount of our global ice cover in the next 100 years.

An excellent simulation by National Geographic on what the world would look like if all the ice melts.

COP21 is only attempting to mitigate future negative impacts further greenhouse gas emissions will produce and yes, maybe in thousands of years time when we have finally reduced the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere, we may see sea and land ice formation again. However, who knows, we may have already destroyed our planet by then, have we left it too late?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

COP21: What is the significance? - Part II

With it looking hopeful that nations will create a binding agreement for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at COP21 is Paris this December, this could be very good news for the Earth in general.

With a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it could be projected that the long term rates of global warming may significantly be reduced and "buy us more time". However, I do say the rates of global warming may be reduced and not that this will help stop climate change.

A reduction is greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level is theoretically 'Earth management'. By this I'm implying that we will see the consequences of our actions (through increased global temperatures), but this so called 'Earth management' is making the best of a bad situation and making sure that the temperature increase does not reach that of unprecedented levels and the increase remains as low as it possibly can. Put simply, a reduction in greenhouse gases to safe levels is only really undergoing the process of damage limitation, and making sure the effects don't get worse.

We will still notice global warming due to the delay in effects noticed by the damage we have already done to our planet, but COP21 plans on attempting to make sure we don't make any more mistakes regarding polluting our atmosphere.

Now I did promise I would get onto talking about the positives COP21 will bring about to "the melting world", but I wanted to convey this idea that COP21 will not fix global warming, but it has the potential to reduce the long term impacts on this planet, hence the term 'damage limitation'. Part III will go into the benefits COP21 can bring to cold environments both short and long term.

COP21: What is the significance? - Part I

We are slowly approaching what could be one of the most influential and important climate conferences ever held. COP21 is being held is Paris this December.

For those of you who currently do not know about the purpose of these COP events (this being the 21st one) this post will attempt to answer the question, along with the benefits to aiding in the reduction of melting ice masses (which can be found in the second part to this blog post).

COP21 in Paris Logo

The purpose of these COP events is to monitor the world's progress in coping with climate change, and to propose new methods of attempting to reduce individual nations greenhouse gas emissions to lessen the effects of global warming.

COP21 has been much anticipated and there appears to be a large amount of "hype" surrounding the conference. This is because the impact greenhouse gas emissions are having on rates of global warming seemed to have been acknowledged by many sovereign states. The cause of this is due to the large body of empirical evidence which now surrounds the subject, provided by scientists such as Thomas Karl to name just one of thousands.

Protesters at COP20 who believe nations are not doing enough

Diana Liverman has gone to the extent that the idea we are undergoing climatic changes has gone "From Uncertain to Unequivocal".

Now the summit aims to create a binding agreement between nations. This agreement will aid in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions so that the 2 degrees Celsius global temperature increase which is predicted is not breached. Above this, it is thought that the health of the planet can be severely altered and damaged.

So COP21 appears to be the turning point in nations attitudes to climate change and the impacts we are having on our planet, but realistically, will anything truly happen? Or will it just be another policy nations don't listen to? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Secondary impacts of melting Arctic sea ice: Did you know all 7 of them?

In my view, TEDx videos are such a great way to spread the word of scientific research to the global community for free. Here is a perfect example which is applicable to the last blog and counter arguments to it. David Barber is a professor at the University of Manitoba and produces some information not many people actual know about the Arctic sea.

He provides secondary impacts of the melting sea ice including the opening of shipping lanes and polar bear population depletion, but, there are 5 other facts and implications (not mentioned in my blogs) many people didn't know about the consequences of shrinking Arctic sea ice.

Give this a watch and tell me what you think!

Is it all Doom and Gloom?

As many of you are aware, the recent interest in the "Melting North" has seen both positive and negative press. In this blog I'm going to focus on the very controversial positives this issue has seen in recent decades. I don't plan to give a full in-depth analysis on the topic at hand but give you a slight insight into this much debated topic.

As some of us know, putting aside all the humanitarian and wildlife issues which surround this topic, benefits are already being seen from the retreating annual northern sea ice. Not only have governmental bodies highlighted the economic benefits of the melting ice, but scientific authors have also built upon this knowledge in the benefits of the Northwest Passage opening.

We are currently living in a ever more capitalist world, where growth is a focal point for many sovereign states. The opening of the Northwest Passage comes to the joy of these nations due to the reduction in cutting shipping costs, as travel time is nearly halved between Europe and Asia. Having said this, you cannot ignore the fact that the problems this has caused regarding the questionable extent of a nations borders into the Arctic sea, but I will go into further depth on this topic in a blog in the near future.

A company handout photograph shows the oil production platform at the Sakhalin-I field in Russia, partly owned by ONGC Videsh Ltd., Rosneft Oil Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Japan's Sakhalin Oil and Gas Development Co.

With the retreat of the Arctic sea ice extent, it means greater areas of under-sea land are available to access on an annual basis. Global companies such as Exxon have invested billions of US$ into mineral exploration in the increasingly ice free Beaufort Sea. Further more, Shell have invested near on $7 billion in the hunt for oil in the Arctic and Alaskan seas. I think its key to remember that I have only mentioned two companies with an interest in mineral exploration in the Arctic sea and there will be hundreds with a great interest if mineral extraction in the Arctic sea becomes the norm.

Only recently, Obama blocked proposals for further exploitation in the Alaskan coastal Arctic oceans in an attempt to slow the negative impacts of mineral exploitation.

I have only mentioned two positives of the retreating Arctic sea ice but there are a handful of others. Yes there is controversy around them and no I don't necessarily agree that they are both positive to the global community, but this blog just highlights that there are some positives to what is a global crisis in my eyes.


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Where are the "Pole-ice" when you need them!

Where’s the "Pole-ice" when you need them!

Polar bears .... are in danger!!
Photo and fact provided by Green Peace

This was a striking post made by a member of Green Peace and it really got me thinking if this fact was correct. I have always been concerned about human impacts on the Arctic, whether it’s for mineral exploitation, removal of indigenous tribes from their land or the stresses the melting icecaps are having on the daily lives of Arctic creatures. Yet with all these issues climate change and human activity is having on the Arctic, little seems to be being done to help slow down the impacts. I mean, after all, the only reason we are seeing these increased rates of Arctic change is arguably down to human impacts on the global system, but why is nothing being done about it?

This is why we need the “Pole-ice” to get involved, in which I’m referring to leading governing bodies and industries to take immediate action on a global scale to retard the production of harmful emissions and human activity in the Arctic which is inherently destroying these pristine habitats. Not only is the reduction of harmful greenhouse gases good for the Arctic biome, but for the global population themselves. Putting aside all the secondary effects of climate change, one primary issue which impacts everyone is the health issues associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions. It is predicted that if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions, 3,000,000 premature deaths may occur due to health issues by 2100.

So it’s not only the fluffy things which look like candy floss that are being affected, millions of people are affected every year by the changing climate. So I say again, where are the “Pole-ice” when you need them?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Caught me red-handed!!

With this whole controversial topic of the issues we as a global community may face with a gradually melting world, I wanted to take some time out to explain what got me so passionate about this topic in the first place.

As you may not know I went to Southampton University to study my undergraduate degree in BSc Geography. My dissertation and the findings of the work was the main cause for my concern of the future of cryospheric melting. My dissertation aimed to look at glacial fluviology and the impacts of glacial melt of the proglacial landscape. My study site was located in the Swiss Alps, covering two glacial systems; the Gornergletscher and the Findelengletscher located in close proximity to the mountain region of Zermatt. Readings of water and air temperature, cloud cover, water pH and solutes, discharge, river cross sectional area and suspended sediment concentration were taken at hourly intervals on the two systems for 3 days at each site. The results I gathered showed alarming implications to not only damming systems but potential issues with structural damage to the urban habitable region of Zermatt where the melt water flowed through. At the current rate glacial melt and retreat, the damming systems in the Swiss Alps (which ultimately control the discharge reaching the urban regions) will be exerted to extreme stress and potential for flash flooding or a great need for further investment into better damming systems. Furthermore, with increased discharge you can expect increased suspended sediment load, eroding the dam turbines leading to potential hazards in the future. This was only my first cause of concern about climatic changes impacting the cryosphere.

Image 1: Large volumes of water entering a glacial moulin on the Gornergletscher

Wanting to investigate this further, me and my colleagues spent the rest of our time climbing up to the glaciers and recording the glacial ablation on the surface, and I can tell you now, we were all shocked with the results. Surface melt rates reached a net loss of up to 5 cm a day in certain parts of the glacier. New moulins (surface entrances to the glacier where water channels flow down: see Image 1) seemed to appear each day, indicating increased melt rates and leading to glacial movement of the snout into warmer lower altitudes. We also noticed chunks of the glacial snout (Image 2) began to break off at rates you could only imagine seeing on a David Attenborough documentary!

Image 2: Large blocks of ice break off the snout of the Findelengletscher

The overall picture of what I'm trying to say here is that climate change is occurring, and its impacting our planets glaciers at a much faster rate any of us can imagine. People who have seen these incredible features up close will all say the same thing as well. They are awe-inspiring, yet, they are altering at rates unprecedented to recent history. Not only are the notable changes of importance here, but the secondary impacts which are usually unseen to the naked eye (such as dam damage and risk to future flash flooding in urban areas) are equally as important, if not more worrying than watching the glaciers disappear.

Now you have seen an overview to the topic and why I'm passionate about the possible implications a melting world will bring, I will focus on some of the major global issues which we are facing now with the melting world.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Introduction: The melting world

The cryosphere, encompassing the Earth’s ice masses – notably Antarctica, the Arctic, the Greenland Ice Sheet and glacial systems, is currently under threat from the impacts of climate change.  If mitigation or adaptation methods are not implemented sooner rather than later, the impact of a globally melting world will affect everyone on this planet in one way or another. This blog will attempt to answer two remaining questions which are currently unanswered; 1) Can we survive? And 2) Have we reached a point of no return? But first we must understand why the Earth in noticing increased temperatures.
Current records show that the Earth is undergoing a warming period like any other seen in recent history. As seen in data provided from the IPCC, between 1880 and 2012, warming has been recorded at about 0.85oC with most of this warming being seen post World War II era. Using temperature reconstruction models, it is evident that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and around the world have rocketed above the norm. This has been deduced to anthropogenic activities over the past 100 years, through the increasing production of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and activities which alter the environmental conditions.       

So why is this happening and what are the consequences which have followed? Well, this could be linked to the evermore globalised and interconnected world we live in, combined with further technological advances over the past 150 years and a growing global population. The increasing use of the finite fossil fuels we have left on this planet to not only produce goods for purchase, but to make daily lives easier, has seen a rise in dangerous Greenhouse Gas Emissions such as CO2. This ‘thickening of the Earth’s blanket’ has meant that rates of radiative forcing have increased, leading to a warming of the Earth. But what are the consequences of this warming? The list of problems created is endless. In all biomes and environments around the world, climate change has impacted them all in some form with arguably the most notable changes occurring in the cryosphere. This recognition of an altering planet is the reason why scientists such as Gabrielle Walker have questioned if we have reached the point of no return. Can we survive this warming period, and if we can, how are we already adapting to survive in a frightfully altering Earth?