Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The Arctic Basin: Warming Faster than the Planet in its Entirety

Arctic Ocean

Melting of the Arctic Sea Ice

“The arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore
June 8, 2018—–The Arctic Basin consists of the Arctic Sea and the surrounding land. The climate of the basin is warming faster than any other area of Earth’s surface. Air temperature over the arctic has increased an average of nearly three degrees Celsius (five degrees Fahrenheit) over the last century. This is almost double that of the global average.

The Energy Exchange in Change of State Between Ice and Water

One very important feature of the energy balance distinguishes the Arctic Basin. Over 95% of the earth’s surface, the major change in the state of water in the environment is between liquid and gas. This entails evaporation and condensation. In the Arctic it is between solid and liquid. There is an energy exchange of about 80 calories per gram between solid and liquid. For the rest of the earth the energy exchange is much higher. The energy exchange between liquid and gas is 590 calories per gram. This is nearly seven times that of ice and water.

The implication of this is that melting or freezing takes place with relative small changes in heat added or heat lost in the environment!

The energy exchange in melting artic

Melting of the Arctic

Energy Exchange in the Tundra

Surrounding the Arctic sea is a grassland, generally known as the tundra. Such a grassland is found primarily only in the Northern Hemisphere. The southern margin of the tundra is delimited by the polar margin of a coniferous forest. Specific regions that contain tundra are the northern coast of North America, Iceland, Spitsbergen, coastal Greenland, and the Arctic borderlands of Eurasia.

A significant feature of the tundra is permafrost. Permafrost is permanently frozen ground. Extensive area of land in the basin are covered with it. Permafrost can vary from centimeters to many meters thick.

Ice and snow are highly reflective of solar radiation. However, in the summer months some of the solar radiation melts the permafrost. The surface layer of permafrost thaws leaving the deeper layer frozen. The result is that lakes and ponds are a characteristic of the tundra. Once the permafrost melts at the surface, the wet ground absorbs much more radiation and the thawing increases. However, except on the margins of the permafrost, there remains frozen ground beneath the surface.

How deep the permafrost melts will vary. The point is that once the surface thaws the solar energy that is absorbed goes up substantially. This in turn increases the rate of the thawing of the permafrost. As the earth’s atmosphere slowly warms this process is being accelerated.

climate change

The exchange of energy is causing rapid arctic melting.

Energy Exchange in the Arctic Sea

The Arctic Sea is a part of the world ocean that is frozen much of the year but increasingly is open during the summer months. The season when melting occurs has increased by three weeks since records began. At present, even in the summer, there is a large area that remains frozen. As the atmosphere slowly warms more of the ice cover melts. Open water absorbs much more radiation than the ice and this increases the temperature of the water which then increases melting of the ice. As a result, over recent decades, the sea ice has been thinning or melting entirely over large areas. Just as on land the conversion from sea ice to open water is increasing at an increasing rate.

Climate change

The rapidly melting artic

In summary, the arctic basin is warming faster than most of the earth’s surface. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the amount of energy it takes to change the state of water between solid and liquid is much less than it takes to change the state between liquid to gas. There is thus a net gain in heat that is proportionately higher than that of the rest of the planet. As the summer season increases in length more heat is absorbed in the environment adding to the general global warming!

Warming of the Arctic

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Earth Day, Earth Hour, and Other Happenings

Make Every Day Earth Day

April 22, 2016, Love the Earth You’re On!

“Whether it is rising sea level, rising global temperatures, more frequent severe storms, changing weather patterns, the problems of climate change are real.”

By Dr. John J. Hidore

April 14, 2016—-In the past year or so, environmental events have changed the public perception of global warming and climate change. Not only have the majority of people now endorsed the fact that warming of the planet is real, but also that something must be done to stop the rapid change to the global system. Making a difference has become the action mode. Politicians around the world, regardless of their political or economic philosophy, are being forced to take action to curb the process. They are taking action because they must deal with the effects of global warming. Whether it is rising sea level, rising global temperatures, more frequent severe storms or changing weather patterns, the problems are real. Heads of state and mayors of major cities are now beginning to deal with these problems.

Earth Hour Spreads

On Saturday March 12, a global event took place called Earth Hour. The purpose of the event was to call attention to the rising impact of global warming and climate change. The first Earth Hour was held in Sydney, Australia on March 31, 2007. The World Wildlife Fund organization asked the people to turn off their lights for one hour to call attention to the increasing effects of global warming. More recently, on Saturday, March 12, billboards in Times Square in New York and lights on some buildings were dimmed or shut down from 8:30 to 9:00 p.m. Many other cities around the globe also participated.
This year marked the tenth year of the event.

Earth Day

Clean Energy: Make It a Priority!

Earth Day is Global

Earth Day 2016 promises to be a significant event. In December 2015, a conference was held in a suburb of Paris, France to discuss the necessary action to slow global warming. Attending were more heads of state than had ever before attended a single conference. The outcome? Nearly all of the countries presented plans to reduce greenhouse gases in the near future.

This year on Earth Day, April 22, that group of over 190 governments have been invited by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, to confirm the commitments they made in Paris by signing the agreement. The two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China, have agreed to sign. Unfortunately, most of the countries which participated in the Paris conference have not agreed to attend the UN signing. In order for the agreement to become a working document more countries, accounting for an additional 55% of greenhouse gases, must sign. It is extremely important that as many people as possible contact their representative leaders and encourage these countries to sign the agreement. Enacting this agreement would be a huge step forward in slowing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming!

Earth Day: Let's Clean and Green!

Agreement between China and U.S. will be signed on Earth Day 2016.

Rapid Change in Global Temperature Becomes Evident

Many global temperature records were broken in 2015 and the trend has continued into 2016. February continued a string of nearly a dozen straight months of record breaking monthly temperatures. Global average temperatures reached 56.08 degrees Fahrenheit which is 2.18 degrees above the average. The winter season, December through February, also set records. In February 2016 global temperatures were not only record breaking temperatures, but they rose drastically. Increases over the previous year were the highest since records began in 1880.

The Artic

In February of 2016, the arctic region experienced unusually warm average temperatures. In January 2016, land temperatures were 10oF (5.6OC) higher than the average, and in February 2016 they were 8 degrees F warmer (4.4 o C warmer). Warmer air temperatures in the arctic have had an enormous impact on ice cover in the arctic seas.

Melting of the Arctic

The Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate.

Normally, the lowest amount of ice cover in the Arctic occurs in September and the maximum in February. The warmer temperatures have melted the winter ice cover. Scientists began recording the extent of melting of the winter sea ice in 1979. The winter freezing of the ice set a record in 2015. This past February the area of sea ice was lower than in 2015, setting another new record.

It is predicted that the Arctic could be entirely ice free in the next 20 years as greenhouse gases grow and the planet warms, resulting in even greater weather extremes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Earth Day 2016–Make Every Day Earth Day


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Recent Global Changes of Note

Heat waves and global warming--i.e. climate change!

With climate changes comes broken temperatures!

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

September 25, 2015—Planet Earth is now in a period of rapid change. A fundamental driving force in many cases is the growth of the human population. From the time of its origin until now the population has been growing faster and faster. It took modern humans some 200,000 years to reach a total of one billion individuals. We have added another billion in less than 15 years since the start of the century. The global population now stands at over 7, 368,000,000. Many of the global changes taking place at this time are a result of human activity. Examples from recent years of the 21st century serve to indicate just how fast it is changing.

Year 2014

There has been an overall increase in global temperatures at least since 1900. Global temperatures for the years 1880 to 1980 were below the mean for the 20th Century. Since 1980 global annual temperatures have been above the mean of the 20th Century. The 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997. The three warmest years since 1880 were 2005, 2010, and 2014, all in this century. 2014 was the warmest year on the earth since records have been kept (136 years). The first seven months of 2015 are the warmest for the period since records have been kept.

Global Greenhouse Gases

Climate Change

Warming of the Arctic

Parts of the arctic region are now the warmest they have been in 44,000 years. The warming is taking place around the North Pole including the Arctic Ocean and the surrounding land masses. Most of the ice shelves in the Canadian Arctic broke away from land during the past 14 years. Every summer for the last ten years the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. On Sept 17, 2014 the area of sea ice in the Arctic reached its lowest in recorded history. The extent of the ice was 1.9 million square miles (1.94 million square kilometers). In mid-September of 2015, the extent of the ice was a little greater than in 2014 but still among the least.

Freshwater melting from Arctic ice sheets is slowing the Gulf Stream. Further slowing of the Gulf Stream could cause a three foot rise in sea level on the east cost of the United States. This is in addition to the rise in sea level due to climate change.

Year 2015

Since the start of the industrial revolution, the burning of organic fuels has released more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now the highest it has been in the past 800,000 years. Global CO2 reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in history. The level has increased 85 ppm in the 55 years, since measurements were first made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This represents a 25% increase since 1958. This rate has been increasing more rapidly in the past few decades. This rate of change parallels the growth of the human population and the probability is that it will continue increasing even faster. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for as long as 1000 years!

Antarctica

On March 24, 2015 at Hope Bay, Antarctica, the temperature reached 17.5 OC (63.5o F), the highest ever recorded on the Antarctic continent. This temperature was recorded at the northern end of the Antarctic Peninsula at Argentina’s Esperanza Base, and nearly as high a temperature was recorded the day before.

Rising Temperatures in India

This year a May heat wave in India claimed at least 2,500 lives. Heat waves are fairly frequent in India but this was the greatest loss of life from a heat wave in over 30 years, with extremely high temperatures were reached in cities scattered over the country. Power outages were wide spread as a result of high demand for air conditioning. The city of Khammam recorded the highest temperature ever recorded there at 118.4oF (48o C). Other high temperatures recorded were:
Allahabad 118 F (47.8 C)
Delhi 113 F (45.5 C)
Hyderabad 115 F (46.0 C)
Jharsuguda 113.7 F (45.4 C)

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

The Pakistan Heat Wave

In June the deadliest heat wave known to have occurred in Pakistan took place in the southern part of the country near Karachi. The death toll is unknown for certain but may have reached more than 1000, and was followed by several weeks the severe heat wave that struck India. The heat wave struck during the month of Ramadan which made the impact of the event more severe than it might have been. Unfortunately, city services were not in condition to cope with the heat.

In the U.S. President Obama has advocated for action on slowing climate change and visited Alaska where global warming is changing the lives of the native people.

Pope Francis’s Warning

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si,” a plea for the environment, which is a remarkable change from recent heads of the Catholic Church. He stated, “The current climate change is the result of human activity and, to reduce climate change and pollution, we must convert from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources.” His message: We all must work together for change!


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From Global Warming to Global Environmental Change

Global Greenhouse Gases

Climate Change

There will always be those that deny that humans have any effect on the earth’s environment. But the evidence is in! It is time to focus not on whether we are altering the global system but how we can best slow the rate of changes.

By John J. Hidore
June 2, 2015–More than 100 years ago (1896) Svante Arrenius, a Nobel Laureate, made a study of the relationship between carbon dioxide and global temperatures. He concluded that the burning of fossil fuels could result in increasing temperatures.

In the 1930’s, a meteorologist named G.S Callendar, examined the temperature data from around the world and determined atmospheric temperatures were increasing. He also believed that the use of fossil fuels would lead to a warmer planet. In the 1950’s Charles Keating and Roger Revelle demonstrated that a large part of the carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels was accumulating in the atmosphere.

Rising Temperatures

About this time global temperature measurements began to show a slow and erratic increase. Over time the increase became well documented and the rising temperatures began to alter many natural processes on Earth. In the past several decades the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has accelerated.

Global Warming

Global Warming and Declining Sea Ice

The Koyoto conference

In 1997 in Koyoto, Japan, an international conference on what was then being called global warming was convened. Many nations were represented at the Koyoto conference indicating a global awareness of the problem related to the additional greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. But–the largest contingent at the conference was that of energy corporations. They lobbied with the premise that global warming was a natural event and human activity had nothing to do with global warming. These deniers nearly prevailed! Only the efforts of then Senator Al Gore and a few others bought about a plan to reduce the greenhouse gases. Many nations set goals for reducing their contributions of carbon dioxide.

Working toward 100% renewables

Working Toward Renewable Energy

Global Warming vs. Climate Change

The reference to the process of global warming gradually was replaced by the phrase climate change. Climate change does not imply any hazard, just change! In one sense, the phrase “climate change” is more benign than global warming. Global warming has a more definite connotation of a threat than does climate change. However, implicit in climate change is the fact that there is more involved in change in the atmosphere than just temperature.

Climate consists of all different kinds of weather that occur in any area. It includes average temperatures, and seasonal changes. Climate also includes extremes that may occur in terms of temperature and precipitation. Temperature extremes may include extreme heat or cold. Climate also includes extreme precipitation and propensity to drought. Thus, climate change implies there are many more changes taking place in the atmosphere other than just temperature. The result of massive data collection around the earth documents both global warming and climate change.

Climate Change and the Effect on Regional Systems

It has now become apparent that the changes in climate, that are currently taking place, effect all aspects of the environment. Every region is made up of the atmospheric conditions, the flora and fauna, the water supply, and the land surface itself. Climate change is altering many regional systems such as the tropical rainforests, the grasslands, and even the world deserts.

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

The Effect of Ocean Temperature on Planet Temperatures

The Arctic basin is a good example. Not only has the region warmed but the Arctic Sea has changed from being largely frozen summer and winter to more and more ice free in the summer. This has greatly altered the lives of most inhabitants of the region. Perhaps most significant are the changes in the world ocean. The world ocean covers the majority of Earth’s surface and it is warming and becoming more acidic. These ocean temperatures determine the average air temperature of the planet! The height of the ocean is also rising, reducing the amount of land surface.

This connectedness in earth’s regional systems has resulted in the coining of the term “Gaia”. The term implies that the earth is a living, ever changing system. The concept of it being a living system has been questioned. However, it is well established that when a region of our planet experiences change in some aspect of the environment, it results in changes in the entire system.

Global Environmental Change

What began as the discovery of global rising temperatures has now morphed into a much broader and more inclusive recognition of 21st Century global environmental change. Human activity no effects the entire planet from pole to pole. The most important question of our time this: How much longer can we continue on the present path before the global system can no longer function in a manner that has supported life on the planet for millions of years. All indications point to the fact that time is running for making major changes in world policies.

There will always be those that deny that humans have any effect on the earth’s environment. But the evidence is in! It is time to focus not on whether we are altering the global system but how we can best slow the rate of changes.

Climate Change: Altering Our Global System


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Climate Change Threatens Polar Bears

Polar bears and declining sea ice.

Reduction of sea has made it difficult for polar bears to find food.

While the reduction in sea ice has created economic benefits for some, it has caused serious problems for many species of animals.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

March 1, 2015—In the Arctic Sea, summer sea ice has been retreating from the shore rapidly in the past few decades. In the last few years, the ice has retreated far enough from shore, and thinned enough that the Northwest Passage is open for commercial shipping. This has resulted in considerable economic benefit for the shipping industry—but at the expense of wildlife in the region!

Polar Bears Use the Sea Ice as a Base to Hunt Food

While the reduction in sea ice has created economic benefits for some, it has caused serious problems for many species of animals—one being the polar bear. Polar bears live on the sea ice much of the year and use the sea ice as a base from which to hunt for food. Climate change has caused the ice to retreat further from the coast, making it more difficult for the animals to swim to the ice and back. The Polar bear needs food that is high in fat—and seals provide such a food. However, the population of seals, which is the primary food for polar bears, is declining because the fish population, on which the seals depend, is also declining because of the change in water temperature.

Polar bears and declining sea ice.

Polar bear cubs are decreasing because of lack of food.

Extinction of the Polar Bear

Polar bears are found across the boundary between the southern limits of sea ice and the northern hemisphere land mass. This area includes Russia, Norway, Greenland, Canada, and the United States. There are more than 15 different groups of polar bear scattered around the arctic sea, and the population numbers for many of these groups is not known, but the total number of bears found in these regions is believed to be declining. Total numbers may be as many as 25,000. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has listed the polar bear as vulnerable.

Polar Bears of the Beaufort Sea

Three-fourths of the global polar bear population is found in North America. Polar bears of the Beaufort Sea, which is the southern boundary for the bear, have decreased by 40% since the beginning of the 21st Century. Since the southern areas are warming faster and the sea ice is retreating further from shore, it is here that the problem for the polar bear is the worst. The number of Polar bears living in the southern Beaufort Sea dropped from an estimated 1500 in 2001, to only 900 in 2010. In a four year period, from 2003 to 2007, scientists tagged 80 cubs of which only two survived.

Sea Ice: Too Thin and Too Far from Land

Two-thirds of the Northern Alaskan female polar bears are being forced to make their dens on land rather than on the sea ice, which is their normal location. The sea ice has become too thin and too far from land in the winter. The female polar bear has been documented as swimming more than 300 miles from ice to land and many do not survive the long swim. If the Arctic ice continues melting far from shore, it may drive the polar bear to extinction. Projections show that the population could decline by more than 30 percent by 2050. In May of 2006, the World Conservation Union declared the species to have a high risk of extinction in the wild. Worst case scenarios forecast the global population to drop by 2/3 by 2060.

Hudson Bay also harbors a group of bear which is declining. Canadian scientists in 2013 estimated this population was down 25% since 1988. Data indicates the weight of the female polar bear here has dropped approximately 88 pounds and the number of cubs are decreasing and becoming smaller. The western Hudson Bay is now freezing later in the season and melting approximately three week earlier than several decades ago. This has reduced the bear’s hunting season on the ice by several weeks. The critical period for hunting is in the spring when the females are giving birth. Over the hunting season the bears are adding less fat to get them through the winter. Due to increasing malnutrition the group could become extinct by 2050.

Survival of the Polar Bear

Whether the polar bear can survive on food found on land is doubtful. Existing food found along the Arctic coast is not enough to sustain the animals. As an alternate source of marine food, some bears have attached themselves to walrus herds. While they do not attack adult walrus, they may capture their young. Some polar bears are beginning to scavenger the carcasses of dead bear and whales for food.

In 2008, the U.S. listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


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Global Warming Opens the Northwest Passage

Walruses need Sea ice

Walruses Cling to Melting Sea Ice.

Thoughtlessly expanding activity uses in a poorly understood region already under enormous stress could have dire consequences not only for the Arctic but for our entire planet.

By Dr. John J. Hidore

January 25, 2014—-European explorers in the late fifteenth century began sea voyages westward expecting to find Asia with its riches of spices and ivory. Instead, they located a land then unknown to them, eventually called the Americas. Once they learned there was another ocean beyond this newly found land, they began looking for a way through or around it. At the southern end of the land mass they found the Strait of Magellan. This provided a way around the Americas into the Pacific Ocean. It was, however, a long route.

Exploring a Route through the Islands of the Arctic Sea

Soon, they began looking for a water route around the north end of the land mass. Beginning in the late 18th Century, they started a concentrated effort to explore a route through the islands of the Arctic Sea. Exploration began from both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The explorations were quit varied in mode of travel and resources available.

Many explorers were looking for an open route, including the Franklin expedition which launched in 1845. Though they were experienced and well equipped, the two ships in the search were lost along with their entire crews. Canadian scientists recently discovered the remains of the ship, Erebus, which was one of two ships in Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. Other expeditions suffered the same fate. During the next century alternate routes through the passage were explored, discovering several possible routes. Various ships and small boats navigated the passage either in pieces or over more than one season.

Navigating the Northwest Passage of the Arctic

It was not until 1944 that a ship navigated a route in one season. Traveling from east to west, Henry Larsen, captain of the St. Roch, made the trip in a single summer. In order to claim navigation of the Northwest Passage, a ship must cross the Arctic Circle twice. Once in the Pacific and once in the Atlantic. Many transits of the passage took place in the second half of the 20th Century, all under special conditions and with the use of ice breakers.

Climate Change

The earth’s overall temperatures are increasing every year.

Declining Sea Ice of the Arctic Basin

Satellite images of the Arctic Sea have been available since the 1970s. The satellite data confirms that sea ice has declined throughout the Arctic Basin, but more in some places than others. In recent years the air temperatures over the arctic has been more than 10ºF (5.5 ºC) warmer than the average for the last 30 years. As a result of the warmer temperatures, the ice has been thawing further from shore and the remaining perennial ice pack has been getting thinner. In some areas, it is only half as thick as it was a few decades ago. The summer melting of sea ice has been taking place at an ever increasing rate. It is now taking place much faster than predictions made a decade ago.

Shipping has increased sharply in the past decade. Early forecasting of Arctic warming suggested a possible ice free path through the North West Passage in the summer months sometime between 2050 and 2100. However, at the end of the summer melt period in 2007, there was an open passage of water circling the Arctic Sea. It was hailed as the opening of the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Melting Arctic Ice Opens the Way for Commercial Use

Every summer for the past decade this area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. An ore carrier loaded with 15,000 tons of coal sailed through the passage in 2013. The Nordic Orion owned by Bulk Partners left Vancouver, BC September 17 and reached Greenland in about a week. In the period September 19-30, 2014 a cargo ship made it through the Northwest Passage without the aid of an icebreaker to accompany it. The MV Nunavik left Canada’s Deception Bay and rounded Alaska’s Point Barrow on September 30 headed for the port of Bayuquan, China. The cargo consisted of nickel ore mined in Deception Bay in Nunavik province of Canada. The specially designed ship can force its way through up to five feet (1.5m) of ice.

The route from Deception Bay to the port of Bayuquan through the Northwest Passage is 40% shorter than through the Panama Canal. Through fuel savings the company expects to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, in the past year, a travel company announced it would offer a 32 day, 900 mile luxury cruise through the Northwest Passage. The cruise would operate between Seward, Alaska and New York City. Fares would start at $20,000.

The evidence of change in sea ice parallels other evidence that global warming is taking place much faster than past climate models forecast. If the passage remains open in future years remains to be seen. At its current rate of melting, the Arctic Ocean could be totally ice free in summer this century, if not in several decades. It is even possible a dependable summer ice free passage for shipping may be available within the next decade.

The Arctic is one of our planet’s last pristine ecosystems. As the Ocean Conservatory states, “We need a time-out to understand the implications of destroying this environment. The Arctic needs our help today. Thoughtlessly expanding activity uses in a poorly understood region already under enormous stress could have dire consequences not only for the Arctic but for our entire planet.”


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Our Rapidly Changing World

Our Food Supply may be Rapidly Reduced with Rises in Temperatures.

“There is nothing permanent except change”

Heraclitus , Circa 500 BC

By Dr. John J. Hidore

August 22, 2014—Change through time is a basic attribute of Earth. Earth has been undergoing constant change since it was formed from a cloud of cosmic dust some 4.6 billion years ago. The changes that have taken place and are taking place vary in form, size, duration and areal extent. Days use to be shorter than now; the planet has been both warmer and colder than it is now and the magnetic poles of Earth have changed end for end. Mountain ranges have grown and then eroded away. Ancient seas no longer exist; and biological species have appeared and disappeared. Even the sun which supports life on the planet is not a constant source of energy.

Our Changing Climate

Earth’s climate has changed through time like all else. Throughout most of the history of Earth, the planet was much warmer than it is now. The initial atmosphere contained high concentrations of carbon dioxide and little oxygen. Eventually, the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen changed to what we have now with much more oxygen. Scattered through time were ages of extreme cold. The earliest ice age took place two billion years ago. The second glaciation took place between 800 and 600 million years ago. This may have been the most extensive glaciation ever to occur on the planet.

Today Our Climate is Changing Faster than at Any Other Time

The global environment is changing now faster than at any time in recent history. What is most significant perhaps is that not only is it changing at a rapid rate but the rate at which it is changing is itself increasing. Simply put the environment in which all living things exist is changing faster and faster. A few examples of current phenomenon will serve to make the point.

Modern humans or Homo Sapien Sapien evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago. From Africa the species spread out over the planet. It took the modern human species more than a hundred thousand years to reach a total population of one quarter million. We are now adding a quarter million people to the planet each and every day. Each of these added individuals needs food, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. In addition to meeting the needs for survival, they will want many of the amenities of life that are found in the most prosperous countries.

The Rapid Growth of Human Population

Much of the rapid change taking place now is tied to the phenomenal growth of the human population. One of these rapid changes taking place now is the elimination of animal and plant species. There have been times in the past when a large number of species became extinct due to some natural catastrophe. These times are referred to as mass extinctions. Species of plants and animals are now becoming extinct at an extremely high rate. The rate of extinction of species before human development is estimated to have been about one species every ten years. The current rate is at least 100 each year and possibly as high as 1000 each year. Elephants are one species of animal whose numbers are declining rapidly. One hundred thousand elephants were killed in the two years from 2010 to 2012. Satao, the largest known African Elephant was killed by poachers in Kenya near the end of May 2014.

The Monarch Butterfly has Rapidly Reduced in Numbers.

The Rapidly Disappearing Monarch Butterfly

Another example of how fast species are declining is that of the monarch butterfly. Less than two decades ago as many as a billion monarchs migrated to Mexico for the winter. In the fall of 2013, that number dropped to a tiny fraction (1/30) of previous decades. The primary reason for the drop in numbers is the tremendous application of herbicides to agricultural fields. This rapid drop in butterflies is just one of what is now considered to be the sixth mass extinction.

Record Breaking Temperatures

Earth’s climate is being altered by the human species. The planet is warming up due to human activity. The highest average atmospheric temperatures ever recorded for the months of May and June occurred in 2014. The heating is having a profound impact on almost all parts of the environment including the world ocean.

What the outcome of these rapid changes for the human population and other living species is not known. An even cursory look at what is happening on the planet in 2014 suggests that some drastic changes in the behavior of the human population need to take place now.

The only question is whether the people understand and will demand the changes.


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Arctic Methane Adds to Global Warming

Methane Leaking through the Cracks

(Photo credit: NASA)   Melting of   permafrost is releasing trapped methane into the atmosphere.

By John J. Hidore

Melting of  the Permafrost  

 December 7, 2013–A characteristic of much of the land surrounding the Arctic Sea is a phenomenon known as permafrost. Permafrost is ground which is frozen in winter. In summer the ground surface melts, but does not melt down far enough to thaw the frozen soil all the way to the bottom. Along the southern boundary of the permafrost, the temperatures within the soil are close to the freeze-thaw temperature. Only a slight increase in temperature can melt permafrost over large areas. Along this boundary, the permafrost is melting downward at a rate of about three feet (1 meter) every ten years. Around the base of Mt. McKinley large areas of arctic meadow have turned into a mix of ponds containing water-loving plants and dry meadows. Much of the melting of the permafrost has taken place in the past several decades. Permafrost is not restricted to North America. Somewhere between 20 and 25% of Earth’s land area contains permafrost. In China, the permafrost is estimated to be melting northward at the rate of about 1.6 km (1 mi) every year. Around the Arctic Sea the permafrost is now completely melting in summer on the southern margins.

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas found in small amounts in the atmosphere under natural conditions. It is a gaseous hydrocarbon that is clear, odorless and flammable. It forms in the natural world largely from the decomposition of organic matter. It has begun to accumulate during the past two centuries. Since 1750, the level of methane has more than doubled from about 700 to 1800 parts per billion (ppb) in 2013. The current level is the highest in at least the last 650,000 years. About half of the increase has occurred since 1960. The additional methane comes from a variety of sources including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.
Historic Changes in Atmospheric Methane
Date Parts per Billion
By Volume
___________________________________________
100,000 YBP 500
70,000 YBP 650
20,000 YBP 350
1750 700
19th Century 800
1990s 1600
2013 1800 ___________________

Methane: Seeps and Fountains

Permafrost provides a barrier for gases trapped beneath the frozen soil and ice. A large amount of methane is trapped beneath permafrost and ice covered lakes, perhaps trillions of tons. Some of the methane has been trapped under the ice for hundreds of thousands of years. Rapid melting of the permafrost is releasing trapped methane into the atmosphere. The melting of sea ice and decomposition of vegetation at the bottom of ponds and lakes contributes to the methane emissions. Ice capped seeps are mainly found along the boundary of the permafrost. They are also found around the retreating margins of glaciers. Scientists have recently documented 150,000 methane seeps in Alaska and Greenland. In Russia more than 100 methane fountains have been found, some more than one-half mile wide. These fountains send methane directly into the atmosphere. On a global basis, methane is now second to carbon dioxide in volume of emissions. It accounts for about 23 % of greenhouse gases. The combination of CO2 and methane combined account for 93% of greenhouse gas emissions at present.

Water vapor normally is not present in any significant amounts above the troposphere. Methane rises in the atmosphere, passing through the troposphere to the stratosphere. In the stratosphere the sun breaks down methane and hydrogen oxidizes to form molecules of water vapor and ice crystals. The accumulation of water vapor and ice particles forms thin clouds. These clouds reflect Earth radiation back to the surface, compounding global warming. Computer models show that a doubling of methane into the atmosphere could increase water vapor in the stratosphere by approximately 30%.

Perpetuation of Global Warming 

Because global warming is most rapid in sub-Arctic regions, rapid melting of the permafrost is taking place and increasingly releases methane into the atmosphere. The release of methane in sub-polar regions is self perpetuating. If more methane is released into the atmosphere, it will lead to still more warming and more methane release. If only one percent of the methane known to be buried in the ground were emitted to the atmosphere, it would have double the warming effect of all greenhouse gases placed into the atmosphere to date.


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Arctic warming and Sea Ice

By John J. Hidore

SHEBA (Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean...

Researchers taking data in a melted area of the Arctic Ocean ice pack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early forecasting of Arctic warming suggested a possible ice free path through the North West Passage in the summer months perhaps between 2050 and 2100. 

The Arctic: Rapid Changes in Temperature

November 1, 2013—Earth’s two polar regions of the Antarctic and Arctic differ a great deal. The Antarctic is a land mass surrounded by sea. In contrast to the Antarctic, the Arctic region is essentially a sea surrounded by land. This difference results in substantially different climatic conditions. Today the most rapid changes in temperature and climate are taking place in the sub-arctic regions of the northern hemisphere.

Extending over the North Pole and for varying distances southward is the Arctic Sea. In the winter months the sea is covered with a broken sheet of floating ice, up to perhaps 13 feet (4 meters) thick. Sea ice is defined as sea surface on which at least 15% of the surface is covered with ice. This ice is generally thickest in the middle of the sea and thins toward the surrounding land. Winter sea ice reaches the Arctic shoreline or very near it. However, even in winter there is always some open water. There are open cracks in the ice as the rotation of the earth causes stress in the ice. These cracks continually open and refreeze. When the sea is covered with snow and ice the bright surface absorbs only about 20% of the solar radiation. The rest is reflected back to space. This reflected sunlight does not alter the frozen surface.

Long Days And Intense Sunlight

In summer, the ice melts away from the shores of the continents and islands. The ice is thinner on the edges and so it thaws more readily. Around the summer solstice, in late June, the sun is highest in the sky and the days are the longest in the northern hemisphere. The long days and intense sunlight are a primary factor in the melting. The effect of the sun on open water is very different from that of sun on snow and ice. When the surface is open water, the water absorbs up to 90% of the radiation. This absorbed solar radiation warms the water. Away from shore there is sea ice which does not melt in the summer. This is thicker than ice near land masses.

The Receding Arctic Ice Pack

Satellite images of the Arctic ice have been available since the 1970s. The satellite data confirms that sea ice has declined throughout the Arctic Basin, but it has receded more in some places than others. At times, in recent years, the air temperatures over the arctic have been more than 10ºF (5.5 ºC) warmer than the average for the last 30 years. As a result of the warmer temperatures, the ice has been thawing further from shore and the remaining perennial ice pack has been getting thinner. In some areas it is only half as thick as it was a few decades ago. The present area of sea ice is about 50,000 mi2. (125,000km2). The ice pack has been melting faster in summer since the beginning of the twentieth century. The summer melting of sea ice has been taking place at an ever increasing rate. It is now taking place much faster than predictions made a decade ago. The additional heat absorbed by the Arctic Ocean contributes to global warming. The heat absorbed by the water in summer eventually escapes to the atmosphere in the fall and winter, as the water cools and freezes. The heat transferred from open water is 100 times greater than from ice.

Forecasting Arctic Warming

Early forecasting of Arctic warming had suggested a possible ice free path through the North West Passage in the summer months,  perhaps between 2050 and 2100. However, to the astonishment of nearly everyone, at the end of the summer melt period in 2007, there was an open passage of water circling the Arctic Sea. It was hailed as the opening of the Northwest Passage from Atlantic to the Pacific.

Every summer for the past decade the area of sea ice has been below the average of the previous 20 years. In the summer of 2011 sixteen ships made the trip through the Northwest Passage. None of these required the use of an ice breaker ship. On September 16, 2012, Arctic sea ice reached the lowest since data has been available. In September 2013, a coal carrying freighter sailed through the Northwest Passage, also without the aid of an ice breaker. Whether the passage remains open in future years remains to be seen. On September 13, 2013, the area of sea ice reached its minimum for the summer. However, the area of sea ice actually expanded some 40% from the previous year. The additional ice had formed around the outside of the ice pack and was quite thin

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The evidence of change in sea ice parallels other evidence that global warming is taking place much faster than past climate models have forecasted. At its current rate of melting, the Arctic Ocean could be totally ice free during the summers within the next decade. An ice free arctic will substantially alter the climate of the northern hemisphere sub-polar regions.

Sources of sea ice data
http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/ice-sea
http://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/World Of Change/sea ice