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Earth Science

Rapid Arctic Melt Called 'Planetary Emergency' 757

Freshly Exhumed writes "Drawing on new data released Wednesday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center that the Arctic ice pack has melted to an all time low within the satellite record (video), NASA climate scientist James Hansen has declared the current reality a 'planetary emergency.' As pointed out by Prof. David Barber from the University of Manitoba, 'The thaw this year broke all the records that we had previous to this and it didn't just break them, it smashed them.' So, not sure why your mainstream press isn't covering this story? 'It's hard for the public to realize,' Hansen said, 'because they stick their head out the window and don't see much going on.' Thankfully, some people are noticing, as Bill McKibben's recent Rolling Stone article, Global Warming's Terrifying New Math has gone viral."
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Rapid Arctic Melt Called 'Planetary Emergency'

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  • balance? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:33AM (#41410093)

    But at the same time Antartic sea ice is being added per

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:4, Informative)

    by arpad1 ( 458649 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:38AM (#41410153)

    There is another polar ice cap. Anyone know what's happening there with regard to ice coverage?

    Seems to me that if you're telling only half the story you can't possibly be telling more then half the truth.

    If that.

  • by madhatter256 ( 443326 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:40AM (#41410171)

    Is this man made or part of a natural cycle?

    Is 30 years enough to make a conclusion? Or should we wait another 50 to 100 years to see if humankind has contributed to this?

    Also, what about Russia's thousands of leaky natural gas pipelines (and possibly more that have been undocumented) that reportedly dump 8 times more natural gas into the atmosphere per year than the amount of oil Deep water horizon' well had dumped in 2010???

    Last I checked methane is more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 (which we humans do put out more) and don't forget the numerous natural emissions of CH4 into the atmosphere.

    We as humans know way too little. It's not one thing thats causing this, which is what is being fed to us by the Media. It is many other things. From a mathematical perspective... we only have one equation, but too many variables.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:43AM (#41410233)

    Archimede principle: ice occupy as much space in water as it does once it has melted. The level of the oceans will only raise if inland ice melt such as in Antartica or Groenland.

  • Re:Fabulous (Score:5, Informative)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:44AM (#41410259) Homepage Journal

    Build your own solution [] there are more than enough options with known and reasonable impacts on global GDP and quality of life. The real problem has been purely political for at least a decade.

    A site with a list of wedges []

  • meanwhile.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:47AM (#41410303)

    Antarctic Sea Ice Sets Another Record

    "Antarctic sea ice set another record this past week, with the most amount of ice ever recorded on day 256 of the calendar year (September 12 of this leap year)."

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:2, Informative)

    by demachina ( 71715 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:49AM (#41410315)

    As global temperatures rise, ocean temperatures rise and they are almost certainly going to push more water in to the atmosphere in the form of clouds and rain on land. Earth does have natural mechanisms to adapt to climate changes. More rain could mean floods, could mean places that aren't getting enough precipitation like the Sahara will get more and be more habitable. The Sahara hasn't always been a desert. The people who live there might LIKE climate change.

    Some researchers are contending that half the sea level rise we've seen to date is due to cities and farms pumping water out of ancient aquifers on an industrial scale. If you had more rain civilization wouldn't be so dependent on depleting aquifers. When aquifers are gone it will take a really long time before they come back.

    Yes there is a danger of a runaway greenhouse effect but its also true that the Earth doesn't have "one true" climate and we shouldn't pretend that we are going to lock it in to one. Its always changed over time, sometimes dramatically and unless man is going to start teraforming we aren't going to lock it down now.

    Me personally I'm OK with global warming, of course I'm heavily invested in harbor and beach front property on the northern coast of Canada, or at least it will be beach front when sea level rises 9-10 meters.

    I always like to "look on the bright side of life".

  • Then again... (Score:3, Informative)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:49AM (#41410329)

    Then again, there is this article [] from the Register today.

    Nobody knows for sure what is really going on. The satellite record is too short for us to know if this is an extraordinary event, or part of a normal cycle.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:51AM (#41410341) Journal

    Hansen is not a scientist he's a activist with scientific credentials. It's his horse in the race and he should be stripped of his title at NASA. We need scientists to report not react.

    Anyway, the "epic" melt now being leverages is not a temperature melt. There was a huge artic storm that broke up the ice, which increased the surface area, which the water then melted. If we take a look at a temperature graph for the arctic: [] We see that it was an "Average" year with no additional time above the melting point than normal. What created the melt was not warmer weather, it was increased surface area.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:4, Informative)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:54AM (#41410383) Homepage Journal

    Whoops, you just misinformed everyone. Saltwater is more bouyant than freshwater, and due to the nature of how ice appears in the ocean(the evaporate, snow, accumulate cycle) the icebergs and ice shelves that are melting are made of freshwater. The impact is that they actually do raise the sea level more as water than the displacement caused by ice. Now, it is true that it's far less than 1:1 for visible melted ice:sea level rise, but to say there is none is misinformation.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:59AM (#41410457)
    Well, it sure looks to me like the amount of ice at the other pole has been growing. []

    ..the graph, however, only goes to 2008. I am sure someone will reply with data on only part of Antarctica (West Antarctic, or the Antarctic Peninsula) that shows it shrinking rather than growing, but that was also true before 2008, which the graph covers.

    Cherry picking? The world is never short on records being broken. To convince others of your beliefs, simply trumpet those records that support you and dont mention those that don't.
  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:59AM (#41410461)

    Um, no. You've just shown you don't understand buoyancy. A given piece of ice, when it melts, *will take up only as much space as the part of the ice that was underneath the water.* Ice floats because a volume of ice weighs less than the same volume of water. It only displaces in water the volume of its weight in water, and so it floats. And therefore, when it melts, it shrinks exactly enough that the water doesn't rise an inch.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:04AM (#41410541)

    The difference between the density of saltware and freshwater is only 2.5%. The level rise would be miniscule; probably not even detectable.

  • by readin ( 838620 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:05AM (#41410563)
    CORRECTION: GameboyRMH made me realize it wasn't Michael Moore who produced "An Inconvenient Truth". I'm sorry for including him in my post above.
  • Re:meanwhile.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:12AM (#41410641)

    please refer to this:

    Arctic sea ice loss is three times greater than Antarctic sea ice gain.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:4, Informative)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:14AM (#41410677)

    We're exporting finished oil goods and importing crude. One of the biggest reasons for the recent change is that we have VERY cheap natural gas from shale. Mexico is sending crude to US refineries where they are using cheap natural gas to crack the crude into the useful components like gasoline and then they are shipping the finished products back to Mexico. This is more efficient than using some fraction of each barrel to power the cracking process. Since natural gas produces less CO2 per BTU it's also better for the environment even when you account for the transportation. In some instances the invisible hand really does lead to a better solution =)

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Layzej ( 1976930 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:41AM (#41410961)

    As global temperatures rise, ocean temperatures rise and they are almost certainly going to push more water in to the atmosphere in the form of clouds and rain on land. Earth does have natural mechanisms to adapt to climate changes. More rain could mean floods, could mean places that aren't getting enough precipitation like the Sahara will get more and be more habitable.

    There will undoubtedly be areas that benefit from global warming, but sub-tropical areas such as the Sahara, Mexico, and the southern U.S. will not. Sub-tropical areas are getting dryer. Sub-polar regions are getting wetter. This is due to the amplification of the global hydrologic cycle and it is expected to continue as the atmosphere gets warmer. The linked video describes the process: []

  • by UdoKeir ( 239957 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:47AM (#41411017)

    Yet not a one climate model (to my knowledge) takes into account the biggest heat source and the biggest driver of that heat source. []

    First hit is: []

    most up-to-date climate models—including those used by the United Nations’ prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—incorporate the effects of the sun’s variable degree of brightness in their overall calculations.

    This wasn't difficult. Are you being willfully ignorant?

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:50AM (#41411067)

    "Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality. And reality has a well-known liberal bias."

    Colbert, Stephen. 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (speech, 2006).

  • Re:Please Be Quiet (Score:4, Informative)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:56AM (#41411159) Journal

    The US mainly grows corn and soy because the government protects those industries from ever having to retool for more viable crops.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by aurum42 ( 712010 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @10:59AM (#41411187)
    No. The *sea ice* around Antarctica, which changes seasonally, has been showing a build-up for a variety of reasons, but the land ice mass, which is what's really important in terms of sea levels, has been decreasing. See here: []
  • Re:Fabulous (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:10AM (#41411327) Journal

    500ppm is 150ppm too high []. And we don't even have the political will to do 500.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:12AM (#41411347) Homepage

    I assume you are pointing out that when water has salt in solution it is more dense than water without salt in solution. However shallow thinker when you add fresh water to salty water, you do not have fresh water plus salty water, you have slightly less salty water. Sea water while salty is far from saturation point, and salt will not automatically appear in the melty ice to balance out sea water, the two will mix and you will achieve balance, no change in sea level.

    So it has to be ice melt from land. The real problems the scientist are alluding to is a huge rise in methane as a result of thawing permafrost, rotting flood caused debris and rotting storm debris. Huge rises in methane have caused scientists to re-evaluate the nature of the end of the last ice age, rather than being gradual from start to finish. It was gradual in the beginning, the rapidly accelerated due to increased methane levels and the slowed again until it re-stabilised. So whilst the total remains the same rather than slow all the way through, slow, fast, slow is likely more accurately. That fast bit in the middle could be quite destructive as it allows significantly less time to adapt to the changes.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:2, Informative)

    by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:15AM (#41411385)
    Antarctic ice coverage is at record highs for this time of year.

    Soo much sea ice. []

    Weather is not climate, for fucks sake. One year of record this or record that is not a trend, and the short thirty year trend in declining sea ice in the Arctic is mirrored by the rise in sea ice in the Antarctic over the same time period. This looks like a natural cycle to me, especially given the assertions I have heard about an open Northwest Passage during WWII.
  • by barakn ( 641218 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:18AM (#41411413)

    1) No, that's not true. We have data extending back millions of years, although its quality does decrease with age.
    2) Oh good, their models will become more accurate. Where's your model?
    3) No, it is certainly a part of the discussion. The 3-day halt in air-traffic post 9/11 showed a spike in temperatures, revealing the fact that jet contrails are probably hiding some of the warming.
    4) We are already in the part of the Milankovitch cycle where the glaciers should be returning.
    5) This is a wonderfully ignorant statement that ignores feedback cycles in the biosphere and geological sources of CO2.
    6) Yes, but at what timescale? Will the plants we happen to eat have the same nutritive value? What ecological shifts will occur?
    7) Historically? So there were historians writing down what happened during the Pennsylvanian period 300 million years ago? Also, the "not true of oil" statement reveals you to be one of those morons that believes in an unlimited supply of abiogenic oil. Good luck with that.
    8) So what? That occurred with a different configuration of continents and a different orbit around the sun.
    9) So what? This argument confuses weather with climate. It looks like the Northwest Passage will be permanently open during the summer.
    10) The Kardashians get far more clicks. It's actually very hard to get fat, lazy Americans interested in the planet they're destroying.
    11) Move to Texas, then see how much you like the summers.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:29AM (#41411561) Homepage Journal

    As other have pointed out, melting ice that is is *entirely floating* (important proviso) does not alter the level of the water body it is floating in. Adding water to that body -- in liquid or solid form -- does. So sea level rise is produced entirely by water that is on land (mainly in glaciers or ice sheets) entering the sea.

    But melting sea ice can still raise sea levels through effects on land ice that are indirect but potentially dramatic. The greatest concern in the Arctic is sea ice loss leading to warmer summer temperatures as the Arctic Ocean reflects less summer sunlight back into space. Higher temperatures increase the rate at which land ice enters the sea, for example by glaciers calving icebergs. Since sea ice itself is affected by warmer summer temperatures, you have a positive feedback mechanism that can result in rapid, dramatic changes in the Arctic like we're seeing here.

    As for looking out your window, even a dramatic change in sea level like the half a meter might not look like much on a nice day. The beach that once stretched hundreds of yards from your door might only be ten yards wide. But the big change you'll see isn't in your routine daily view, it's in extreme events. The once-in-a-decade hurricane surge which once would have brought the sea to your doorstep now sweeps your house away. These events will have huge economic impacts. People take note of past flood events, and build right up to a line the reckon is unlikely to get flooded except maybe once in a hundred years. Move the hundred year flood line just ten or twenty meters back and suddenly a lot of stuff is routinely flooded every few years.

    Now I live in Boston, which has a rolling landscape and enormous three meter tides (the record high tide is almost exactly 5m). The way people have built here, ten or twenty centimeters in sea level rise will have little effect on us. A city that is built on flat terrain adjacent to an ocean body with small tides is more vulnerable. Cities like New Orleans or Galveston. On a day to day basis there things would look unchanged from present, but when a big ten year storm rolls through turning everything on its head, the area over which it does that is greatly increased.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by jovius ( 974690 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:52AM (#41411875)

    Ice mass is decreasing while sea ice is increasing. The effects are connected, and both result from the warmer air.

    Antarctica is melting and thus contributing to the total sea level rise - []

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @11:55AM (#41411921) Homepage Journal

    The Antarctic is a different situation entirely than the Arctic. Much of the sea ice there is annual, and winter ice doesn't have the effect on local weather that summer ice in the Arctic does.

    In any case climate models do not predict a dramatic change in Antarctic sea ice. The change is predicted to come first in the Arctic then the Antarctic. The reason is that the Arctic ocean is surrounded by land. The Antarctic ocean is surrounded by vast extents of moderating ocean. Region-wide changes under a warming scenario would come to the Arctic before the Antarctic. The Antarctic would see local changes, depending on the prevailing winds.

    This is similar to the situation in temperate continental weather. Under an AGW scenario not every place gets warmer; some get cooler. What you get is a very subtle shift in averages over large areas of the globe punctuated by unusual events like drought and excessive rainfall. If you throw all that into a pot you get a slight change in the global average. It'd be better to call "global warming" "more energetic global climate".

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:4, Informative)

    by radio4fan ( 304271 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:25PM (#41412289)

    Yet removing one container ship from the shipping industry would be the equivalent of removing 50 million automobiles [].

    This claim is about SOx and particulate matter, so is concerned with acid rain and smog, not global warming.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:33PM (#41412373)

    There is a big flaw in this experiment. You have to look at salinity change. In the example you linked to it looks like half salt water and half ice. So the final mix is 1/2 the salinity. Assume the density started at 1.03 kg/L the final mix would be 1.015 kg/L. When the fresh ice is floating it is displacing it's weight in salt water.

    So assume .5 kg of salt water at 1.03 kg/L and .5 kg of ice at .92 kg/L.
    The volume as indicated by liquid level would be 1kg/1.03 kg/L = .97 L

    OK now you melt the fresh water and it mixes to get 1.015kg/L solution = .985L

    OK it goes up about 1.5%. This looks reasonably close to what their experiment showed.

    But lets do it in a 10:1 and a 100:1 mixture of sea water to ice

    Both start at 5.5 kg/1.03 kg/L = 5.34 L
    5kg salt water .5 kg ice = (5 kg * 1.03 kg/L + .5 kg * 1 kg/L )/5.5kg = 1.027 kg/L
    5.5kg/1.027 kg/L = 5.36 L or 0.5 % increase

    50kg salt water .5 kg ice = (50 kg * 1.03 kg/L + .5 kg * 1 kg/L )/50.5kg = 1.0297 kg/L
    5.341 L or 0.02 % increase

    The rise keeps going down with the increase in ratio of sea water to ice.

    For reference the world sea ice varies but from what I can find is around 3x10^4 km^3.
    The volume of the ocean is 1.3x10^9 km^3. So using these values:

    Ice mass
    3x10^4 km^3 * 1000 kg/m^3 = 3.000x10^16 kg
    Sea Water mass
    1.3x10^9 km^3 * 1030 kg/m^3 = 1.339x10^21 kg

    Initial Volume (3x10^16 kg + 1.339x10^21 kg)/1.03 kg/L = 1.300029x10^21 L

    Final Density (1.339x10^21 kg * 1.03 kg/L + 3x10^16 kg * 1 kg/L )/(1.339x10^21 kg + 3x10^16 kg) = 1.029999 kg/L
    Final Volume = (3.000x10^16 kg + 1.339x10^21 kg) / 1.029999 kg/L = 1.300030x10^21 L or 7.7x10^-7 increase.

    The surface area of the oceans is 361x10^6 km^2 which is 3.61x10^14m^2
    The initial average depth of the ocean is 1.300029x10^21 L / 3.61x10^14m^2 = 3601.188 m
    The final average depth of the ocean is 1.300030x10^21 L / 3.61x10^14m^2 = 3601.191 m

    So the ocean rise from all fresh water ice melting and mixing would be 2.7mm

    Just to mess it up further there are various temperature and salinity gradients in the ocean by location and depth which require a more complex analysis than I will write here.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by fnj ( 64210 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:55PM (#41412637)

    I heard the other day that our oil exports now exceed our oil imports.

    If what you heard is talking about CRUDE oil, which is what counts, then what you heard is WRONG. It is astonishing that anyone would believe such an absurd claim.

    For the 4 week period ending September 14, crude oil trade was:
        imports, 8.986 million barrels per day
        Exports, 0.040 million barrels per day
        Net, 8.946 million barrels per day IMPORTS

    What you heard was probably talking about oil PRODUCTS, which were indeed a net outflow:
        Imports, 2.206 million barrels per day
        Exports, 2.838 million barrels per day
        Net, 0.632 million barrels per day EXPORTS

    reference []

    Oil products are gasoline, blending components, distillates, kerosene, jet fuel, propane, and so on. Almost the entire volume of these products comes from, you guessed it, crude oil. So the USA imports crude oil, processes it, and exports a large proportion of the resulting products. Corporations are making money by importing the raw material (crude oil), refining it and processing it into various products, and selling these products overseas. Economics 101, to be sure, but what it means is that some substantial portion of the USA crude oil imports (far from the major portion, however), are not necessitated by domestic use.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @01:11PM (#41412823)

    Actually the Arctic sea ice melt is about three times greater than the increase in Antarctic sea ice. Antarctic sea ice has not increased because it's been getting colder in Antarctica because it hasn't. It's really kind of an interesting and complex explanation.

    One part of the explanation doesn't have much to do with global warming but rather the Antarctic ozone hole. Ozone is a greenhouse gas and the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica causes the stratosphere to cool. This increases the strength of the circumpolar winds around the continent which pushes the ice around opening up polynyas exposing more open water to subsequently freeze thus expanding the ice area.

    The second part does have to do with global warming. "The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted." The paper on that effect is (Zhang 2007) []

    One other interesting fact, the Antarctic sea ice melts (nearly) completely every year before reforming the next winter as opposed to Arctic sea ice which has multi-year sea ice (for a few more years anyway). The reason being is that the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by continents and the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean.

  • Re:Press coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @01:36PM (#41413105) Journal

    The Sahara is a desert because it's in the desert belt, the same latitude band is a desert all around the world, both north and south. This is caused by Hadley Cells [], which are an integral part of the planet's heat pump. In the Equatorial band, Solar Equatorial band that is, warmed air rises, the wind increases the evaporation of sea water, the water vapor being lighter than air provides positive feedback increasing the upward circulation and lifting vast amounts of heat in the form of water vapor above the CO2 saturation point where it condenses and falls out as rain. The dry air moves pole-ward and descends over the horse-latitudes at about 30 degrees north and south, causing the desert band. This feedback does cause the desert band to expand a bit but causes tremendous amounts of cooling for the planet providing negative feedback to the heating.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"