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climate change

Sea Level Rise Makes Miami Ground Zero

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“New Orleans, the Netherlands—everybody understands putting in barriers, perimeter levees, pumps. Very few people understand: What do you do when the water’s coming up through the ground?

This excellent article in the New Yorker, describes how far we need to go to make Americans aware of the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Fort Lauderdale is growing exponentially faster than almost any other American city and yet it’s days are clearly numbered. Florida Governor Rick Scott will not allow State employees to speak about climate change, instead referring to it as “nuisance flooding.” But the message is clear: in my lifetime Miami and much of South Florida will likely be abandoned. No level of ingenuity or faith can stop the rising water. Wake up Florida.

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Midnight Glacier

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Sea ice is declining in the Arctic, but that loss is not directly responsible for rising sea level. Think about a cold drink filled with ice cubes. When the cubes melt, the glass will not overflow. When a glacier or ice sheet on land melts, it directly contributes to more water in the ocean and rising sea level. These photos depict part of the Greenland Ice Sheet where it meets the sea and calves into the ocean. As solid as it looks, it is moving like a river and breaking off into the sea creating icebergs we have seen on our entire journey. I sat on a hilltop in Ilulissat listening to the sound of global climate change… distant cracks and thunderous roars of ice breaking into the sea. It was midnight under a glorious canopy of orange clouds. No photos will ever totally capture this place.

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Changing Salinity in Arctic Waters

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Immense ‘dome’ of fresh water bulging atop Arctic Ocean off Alaska

Doug O’Harra

CPOM scientists have discovered that the freshwater stored in the western Arctic Ocean has increased by 8000 km3 between the mid 1990s and 2010. Credit: UCL – ESA – PVL

Enough extra fresh water to just about fill lakes Michigan and Huron to the brim has collected in the top layers of the Arctic Ocean northeast of Alaska during the past decade, according to new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Driven largely by strong winds and an immense circular current, some 8,000 cubic kilometers of fresh water have bulged up into a widespread dome since the 1990s.

“In the western Arctic, the Beaufort Gyre is driven by a permanent … wind circulation. It drives the water, forcing it to pile up in the centre of gyre, and this domes the sea surface,” lead author Katharine Giles with the Centre for Polar Observation in London, told BBC news in this detailed and graphically illustrated story.

Giles and her four-member team monitored changes in the height of the sea surface between the mid 1990s and 2010 using the Eurorpean Space Agency satellites EFS-2 and Envisat. They found that the overall level in the Beaufort Sea and Canadian Basin has been rising about 2 centimeters per year, mostly during the 2000s.

 “This increase in fresh water corresponds to an increase in the anti-cyclonicity (clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere) of the wind over the western Arctic,” they explained in this story posted by the Polar Observation center.

 “Models had suggested that the action of the wind on the sea surface could cause a raised dome of freshwater to form in the middle of the Beaufort Gyre, but until now there had been no continuous observations of sea-surface height to categorically demonstrate this.”

A reversal of the wind could prompt a release of this fresh water into the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even into the Pacific and Atlantic, the scientists noted.

That’s not all. The scientists also found that the sea surface height didn’t always match the behavior of the wind — leading them to speculate that sea ice tweaks the pattern and changes the freshwater build-up in ways that still need to be analyzed.

“We were surprised to find that our results also suggested that something else was going on,” Giles said here. “One idea is that sea ice forms a barrier between the atmosphere and the ocean. So, as the sea-ice cover changes, the effect of the wind on the ocean might also change.”

There’s actually an ocean of freshwater perpetually sloshing around atop the Arctic Ocean — coming from river runoff, precipitation, evaporation, melting of sea ice and glaciers, and the complex interchange with the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the authors explained.

“More than 70,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater are stored in the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean, leading to low salinities in upper-layer Arctic sea water, separated by a strong (boundary) from warm, saline water beneath,” the scientists wrote.

How much is that? About 16,800 cubic miles — enough to fill six Lake Superiors.

Where that water flows and how it interacts with sea life and the warmer, saltier water beneath is critical to Arctic oceanography. A different group of researchers reported in Nature a few weeks ago that the central Beaufort Sea was the freshest it’s been in 50 years, with most of the additional water coming from Eurasian river runoff — not ice melt.

“A hemisphere-wide phenomenon — and not just regional forces — has caused record-breaking amounts of freshwater to accumulate in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea,” wrote Sandra Hines of the University of Washington in this story.

Read More

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Water Change in the Arctic

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How Climate Change Affects Water in the Arctic

Right now the permafrost is changing fast in the Arctic and will likely shrink more than 10% in the next 20 years with the permafrost borders shifting up to 200 km northward. Where permafrost is present, the ground is frozen up to 500 m deep with only the top meter thawing in summer. That means that lakes, rivers and wetlands in the Arctic do not generally connect with the  groundwater. Surface water is abundant in summer offering breeding grounds for  fish, birds and mammals. That paradigm is changing fast.

When surface water disappears, it affects breeding animal populations and humans who also rely on it for survival.  Therefore, it is imperative that we study the impacts of climate change on general water security in the Arctic.

As the climate warms, natural sources of water and water infrastructure are both affected. Communities and support structure built on permafrost may have to move. Sanitation facilities may also be affected and can contaminate clean water sources if not contained properly.

Water quality is also being impacted adversely as mankind industrializes parts of the Arctic with mining and energy operations. Pollutants are released into the pristine natural environment. Natural pollutants are also released as the permafrost melts. Greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by thaw and flooding, when lowlands are swamped from sea level rise and erosion is increased.

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Canada’s Arctic Warming Fast

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FEB16#4National Action Plan is Needed

As I packed my bags to depart for Canada’s North, I was confronted with the front page of Huffington Post. A full screen banner read “Canada is Melting.” In his article, Michael Bolen, reviews a 259 page report form the federal government that describes how Canada is  warming at roughly the global average over the last half century. With no national plan for addressing climate change, he wonders how long we can keep our heads in the sand.

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said recently: “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country. We are just a little more frank about that.”

The Natural Resources Canada report states that Canada warmed by an average of 1.5°C between 1950 and 2010 and that the trend will continue. It also states that some changes represent challenges and others are opportunities. Encouraging the government to take a forward-thinking rather than react stance, the paper is not all doom and gloom. The study expresses optimism that extreme weather in the future will lead to more “adaptation” on the part of government, industry and the public.

Read more in Bolen’s article here.

 

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