American oceanographer John Englander, author of “High Tide on Main Street” explains the great march inland of rising seas. From UK, Dr. Ted Shepherd: how Arctic heating creates weird weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Radio Ecoshock 161026
Credit: the image for this program is by FRITS AHLEFELDT. Find more here.
JOHN ENGLANDER – THE INEVITABLE MARCH OF RISING SEAS
Coastlines known for centuries are beginning to march inland. Streets flood even without storms, and the surge from each hurricane seem larger than the one before. According to early reports, Hurricane Matthew set new storm surge records in many parts of the American south east.
None of that is news to our next guest. John Englander is the American oceanographer who literally wrote the book on rising seas. It’s called “High Tide on Main Street“, now in an updated edition. He’s been the CEO for The Cousteau Society and The International SeaKeepers. Englander founded the Rising Seas Group to advise governments, industry, and communities.
But John Englander also has a degree in economics. He can speak to the developing financial cost and social rearrangements we will either make – or be forced to make.
Here are a few of my own notes from the interview. The times given are where it comes up in the full program.
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John Englander predicted Sandy-like damage to New York. It was published 1 week before the storm. He says abnormal weather will become the new normal. [3:24] A storm, like a hurricane, is “moving heat”. [3:35]
Oceans tend to go up and down by 120 meters, almost 400 feet, every hundred thousand years. [5:33]
Ice melt and rising seas are “irreversible” now – it is time to adapt. [6:01]
John just went to Greenland in August, as part of an expedition mounted by the US Coast Guard. John gave a briefing for a number of American Admirals. [6:26] He lists of problems with icebergs and melting ice. [6:59]
Trying to predict exactly how much sea level rise is difficult. We don’t know if we’ll get 1 or 2 meters just from Antarctica this century. [8:40] It’s like trying to predict an earthquake or avalanche.
Whether we win or lose on reducing emissions; it’s time to build higher. [10:02]
FLORIDA IS DOOMED OF COURSE
We begin the next segment by talking about Florida, where John Englander lives. He gave a TEDx talk there, in Boca Raton, which is very helpful. Find it here on You tube. He lives in Florida (on endangered land). [10:39]
But it isn’t just Florida. Even cities on tidal rivers will have to adapt to higher levels, places like Sacremento and Hartford Connecticut are also at risk. [11:48]
This won’t be a quick crisis, but a repeating crisis over time. [13:26] It can’t happen quickly like a tsunami, so there will be time to repair or leave slowly. There’s not enough money in the world to compensate people for the land that will go under. [14:50]
The hard truth is: sea level is going to permanently rise many meters. [15:08]
I ask John, are big companies looking into this? He says “yes” but the companies who hire him don’t want us to know they are researching and planning for higher seas. [16:05] I wonder if they are protecting their stock prices, or avoiding liability?
Englander advises we develop “intelligent adaptation” to rising seas. [17:25] But I ask him what happens if we are too dumb to react? In any case, sea level rise is not a choice. It is happening, it will continue to happen. [22:15]
John is working to start The International Sea Level Institute, [22:52] and he’s writing another book for release in 2017. [23:12]
Our guest John Englander advises governments and private stakeholders on the science and financial impacts of rising seas. John is a well-known oceanographer with a wealth of experience. He’s put out a comprehensive guide for the public in his book “High Tide on Main Street”. You can find a lot more at John’s web site at johnenglander.net.
TED SHEPHERD – HOW ARCTIC WARMING AFFECTS WEATHER FURTHER SOUTH (where most us live!)
Another deadly cold wave swept through Europe in early 2012. And then there was “snowmaggedon” in February 2010. So what happened to “global warming”? Not to mention the early 2014 cold wave in North America. How could these extreme winter events happen, while the Arctic is warmer than ever? Scientists are beginning to investigate this weird development.
Dr. Theodore G. Shepherd is the author of a paper published September 2nd, 2016 in the prestigious journal “Science”. The title is “Effects of a Warming Arctic“. It asks questions about a relationship between heating the Arctic with human greenhouse gases, and colder winters further south. In the United Kingdom, Ted Shepherd is the Grantham Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading.
This is a super hot topic in science, and just now, in some mainstream media. Check out this article in Time Magazine “How Warm Winters in the Arctic Make Colder Ones for You” and this new science behind it.
Again, here are some of my own notes from the interview. These are mainly my words and thoughts, so please listen to the interview itself to see what Ted actually said! The times given are where it comes up in the full program.
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Remember, warmer global average temperatures are different from not having winter storms. We will continue to have winters in a hotter world. [26:35]
Ted was asked by the journal “Science” to write a paper “Effects of a Warming Arctic” summarizing what we know so far. That’s what makes this such an excellent interview, I think. [26:55] He was to approach the science without bias, to go over recent evidence and explain where things stand.
I asked Ted “what is the controversy among scientists?” You could say that some scientists attribute more changes in sub-tropical weather to changes in the Arctic, than others do. [27:19]
Basic physics say it will warm more over land, and warm more over winter than summer. [27:35] We could have weirder weather, due to changes in Jet Stream and the Polar Vortex. [27:55]
Surprisingly, the warming trends in Arctic are larger in winter, than in summer, due to release of ocean heat. [29:01] As an aside, not covered in this interview, the Arctic as I write this is experiencing absolute record warmth for late October. This has slowed the development of the winter sea ice. Blogger Robert Scribbler says that sea ice is at a record low for this time of year.
I ask Ted Shepherd if there is hard science showing a warmer Arctic is causing cold winter events further south? [29:30] He replies there is not yet hard science, and no consensus. [29:36]
As climate is changing, Shepherd cautions us “we can’t necessarily use the past as a guide to the future”. [30:06] We are in for surprises.
We talk briefly about Dr. James hansen’s paper on Greenland meltwater [31:16] and whether this has changed the storm track and thus weather to N. Europe? [31:28]
Shepherd says that change in ocean currents and weather has been seen in Paleologic record, but whether it is happening now is “speculative”. [31:49] At any rate, the Greenland melt would only affect Northern Europe, while changes to Asian Arctic would be more direclty from Arctic warming. [31:57]
Thinking about all this, we have to stop asking “is it natural” or “is it Arctic warming”? “Either or” thinking doesn’t work: its both weather variability AND climate change, interacting. [32:12]
We discuss the storm “Juno” and heavy snow in the U.S. and Canadian Northeast in January 2015. [32:56] Shepherd says we have to decouple snow from low temperatures; big snow usually doesn’t fall when its very cold. [33:09] Possibly climate change could lead to more snow, because warmer air holds more humidity, and places formerly too cold to snow will now get more. [33:24]
In another podcast, John Shepherd said is was easier to attribute heat waves to climate change than cooling events. I ask him why.
ANTARCTICA VS THE ARCTIC
We talk briefly about Shepherd’s earlier paper on asymetry of Arctic heating and cooling in parts of Antarctica, [35:56] and I ask him is Antarctica still cooling? [36:12] He explains the Arctic is simple: it’s warming everywhere. The Antarctic is complex. It’s warming in some places, and cooling in others. [36:24]
The Arctic ocean is rather “feeble” (shallow, withou strong currents) whereas the Southern Ocean around Antarctica is deep and has strong currents. [37:24]
THE OZONE HOLE AND GLOBAL WARMING
It’s hard to understand the relationship between ozone hole and global warming. Reading John’s paper was the first time I fully got it. [37:55] First, the CFCs causing the ozone hole are also potent Global Warming Gases. [38:00] John says during last decades of 20th century, CFCs added about 30% of the warming caused by CO2! [38:11] I hope I understood that correctly, listen for yourself.
Secondly, that was global, but then there’s specific regional affect of ozone hold over Antarctica. [38:20] There the ozone hole leads to cooling of the stratosphere. The colder stratosphere changes the winds; and those winds change the surfact climate. [38:47]. The greatest impact of the ozone hole is on the summer weather in the far southern hemisphere. [38:54]
By mid-century, the impact of the ozone hole over the far south could flip, to add to warming, the paper says. [39:10] There is a debate about what is happening with Antarctic sea ice. [39:42] We cannot definitely say the ozone hole has an effect on Antarctic sea ice. There are many complex relationships involving different ocean response times. [39:57]
You can find more on the relationships between the ozone hole and Antarctica buried in this paper “The ocean’s role in polar climate change: asymmetric Arctic and Antarctic responses to greenhouse gas and ozone forcing”, by John Marshall et al.
I ask Ted Shepherd about a 2015 paper he co-authored with Kevin Trenberth on attributing extreme weather to climate change. [40:21] When it comes to extreme weather, Shepherd tells us don’t ask if climate change CAUSED it; ask how much worse it was because of climate change. [41:25] You can read more about the connections between extreme weather and climate change in this report, from the “Committee on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution”. (Ted Shepherd was a member of this Committee, now disbanded).
But if we wait until all climate impacts are clear, that’s much too late. We need the precautionary interpretation of science, not ultra conservative “wait and see”. [42:10]
Shepherd says climate models are not always trustworthy, so we have to apply basic physics as well. [42:29] I worry will complexity actually delay climate action?
Even with all this knowledge about the Arctic and weather, Shepherd says he cannot predict what kind of winter we will experience this year. He leaves that up to other short-term forecasters. The skill level in season prediction is not very high yet. [44:40]
The greatest challenges faced by scientists Shepherd says is how to get this information out to the public, correctly. [45:02] The problem of science is how we talk about the science.
I made a mistake in that interview with Ted Shepherd. The melting of Arctic sea ice in the summer can affect the type of WINTERS further south, in North America, Europe, Russia and even China and Japan. It’s an important point, and I’ll clear it up with some clips from my past interviews with Jennifer Francis. That’s a bit further down in this blog.
But first I’d like to tell you the good news/bad news about the new global agreement to reduce the warming impacts of the gases used in refrigeration and air-conditioning.
FINALLY SOME PROMISED ACTION ON HFC’s, THE REFRIGERANTS WHICH CAN ADD AT LEAST .5 Degrees C WARMING
On October 15th, 200 countries signed a deal to limit and then phase out the use of the chemicals HFC’s used in refrigeration. These hydrofluorocarbons are in your fridge and car air-conditioner right now. They’re in the big freezers in grocery stores and giant commerical air-conditioners in buildings across the world.
HFC’s are hundreds of times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Some say they are thousands of times more powerful. The aim of this treaty, which is an Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, is to avoid half a degree Centigrade of global warming that would have hit the planet from the use of these chemicals alone. Considering the current alleged safe limit is only 1.5 degrees of warming over pre-industrial times, and we are already at 1 degree, it sounds like refrigerants would push us into dangerous climate change even if we stopped the coal plants and car exhausts today. It’s a big deal.
WE TOLD THEM DECADES AGO: NOBODY LISTENED
It’s also a bitter sweet moment for me, and for all environmentalists who remember 1987. At that time, 25 years ago, environmentalists and a few scientists warned loudly that switching from CFC’s, which destroy the ozone layer, as well as being greenhouse gases, to HFCs was a huge mistake. We knew even then that HFCs were a potent greenhouse gas that would damage the world’s atmosphere. I was there in the fight. We warned them.
Frankly, the biggest CFC producers, including the DuPont company, dragged their feet and fought off CFC regulations – until they had a new product to offer: HFCs. That’s what the chemical industry pushed. HFCs were more expensive, and gave the chemical companies another few decades of big profits. There were other safe alternatives already known. These included things like propane, butane, and ammonia. More research and development might have done even better.
Nobody listened. The world cheered as our civilization turned from one damaging chemical to another. People around the world are installing more and more air-conditioning. No wonder. It’s getting hotter and hotter. As HFC sales soar, the damage and further heating became too obvioius to ignore. So now, finally and too late, the governments of the world are prepared for a slow, painfully slow, phase-out of yet another greenhouse gas.
The deal allows China to keep making and installing HFCs until 2024, and India until 2028. That’s where most of the new air-conditioning and fridges will be sold. When those units break down, need to be replaced or just leak, the HFC’s will continue to pour into the atmosphere for more decades, into the last half of this century. You will be told the refrigerants will all be collected and burned, but let’s get real, that isn’t happening now in most places, and won’t in the future. We are committing to releasing very powerful greenhouse gases as we try to cool ourselves on a hotter planet.
Maybe that argreement was the best anyone could get. It’s something. But it won’t save us from the ravages of climate change. We need a drastic change to refrigeration and air-conditioning, with the whole conversion by 2020 at the lastest. Like CFC’s, the sale of HFC’s needs to be criminalized very soon, to save what’s left of our atmosphere. It’s time for new pressure and campaigns to get that done.
CORRECTION FROM THE INTERVIEW – ICE MELT AND THE SEASONS
Let’s get back to the Jet Stream and Arctic ice science. Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University pioneered this science.
In my blog for December 15, 2007 I wrote:
“Let’s look at one last scientific theory that could explain the speed of the melt. Jennifer Francis, an associate research professor at Rutgers’ Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences says that rising sea surface temperatures are driving the melt. Her paper, along with Elais Hunter, was published in Geophysical Review Letters. They found that sea surface temperatures in the winter time – not summer – have gone up in the Barents Sea by up to 3 degrees Celsius since 1980.”
Then in my blog following an interview with Dr. Francis in 2012 I wrote about my surprise in summer and winter impacts – and this is where I got it wrong during the program today:
“One big surprise for me in this Jennifer Francis interview: I assumed that the summer sea ice melt would be a driving factor in things like the record heat waves in the U.S. this past summer, the big drought there, and the wet summer in the UK and Northern Europe. But Francis says the main impact of less sea ice comes as the ice refreezes. That releases heat, builds up a big high pressure zone around the poles, and impacts WINTER WEATHER in the Northern Hemisphere.
The summer weather, Francis suggests, is more changed by the record early snow melt in Arctic lands this spring and summer. Mark Serreze confirms there was a record snow melt this year, exposing a lot of land, across Russia, Canada, and Alaska, to much more heat. That is one of the biggest unreported stories of this year. We’ve all be staring that sea ice melt, without also looking at the huge melt back of snow, much earlier than normal, on land.”
Here is a transcript of that clip with Dr. Francis in 2012:
Jennifer Francis: “I should mention that in the summertime, the extreme weather that we get in the summer is probably not directly linked to the sea ice. It’s actually directly linked more to the rapid decrease in the amount of snow cover on high latitude land. Over the last couple of decades, while the sea ice has been melting, we’ve also been observing that the snow has been melting ever-earlier from high-latitude land areas. And this has a very similar effect as the sea ice does, but in a different season of course.
What happens is when you remove the snow earlier, you expose the soil to the strong spring sunshine earlier, which allows that soil to warm up earlier. So you end up with the same situation that I described for the sea ice, where you’re enhancing the temperatures at high latitudes in the Arctic more than lower latitudes. So the same thing is happening reducing this temperature difference which also weakens the Jet Stream, and I think is playing a role in the drought that we had this year  in the U.S., heat waves and other types of extreme weather.”
Francis said extreme weather in the summer is probably not directly linked to sea ice melt. [at 52:28 in the show]. Summer extremes may come more from rapid decrease in amount of snow cover on high latitute land. [52:36] Snow is melting ever earlier from high latitude land areas. There is a progression: the snow melts, the sun warm soils, that reduces the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics, which weakens jet stream. It’s the same process as the lack of sea ice, but affecting a different season, and due to land snow changes. [53:20]
FROM MY 2015 INTERVIEW WITH DR. JENNIFER FRANCIS:
And here is the update, in our interview in March 2015. This clip starts 10 minutes into Francis interview.
ALEX: “Another challenge for research has been the different patterns for different seasons. The last time we talked with you, a couple of years ago, you seemed fairly sure about what was happening in the fall and winter, but less sure about the spring and summer. Is this Arctic change affecting all four seasons now?
JENNIFER FRANCIS: Well we think it is. Since we talked a couple of years ago there’s been a lot of research done by a bunch of different groups around the world, looking at this linkage between Arctic change and weather patterns in mid-latitudes. And what we’ve learned is that the mechanisms that are creating the linkages vary with season, and with location.
So there isn’t one story we can tell that explains this linkage. A group in Germany for example has been looking at ice loss in the Arctic, and summer extreme weather patterns over Europe and Asia – and finding that the loss of sea ice in the summertime is contributing to these sorts of extreme events, because that warming in the Arctic is causing the Jet Stream to split sometimes in the summer. It’s more likely to do that because there’s less sea ice. And when the Jet Stream splits, it tends to trap these waves in the Jet Stream and they tend to stay in one place. And that leads to some of the extreme events that are related to the weather patterns, like heat waves and drought and flooding.
So that’s one of these mechanisms that have been studied that is just a summer mechanism. There are others that people have been identifying that occur only in the winter time. One of these that appears to be very robust is a link to ice loss over Western Russia, in the Arctic area just north of Western Russia. That seems to be causing the tendency for very cold winters over Central Asia.”
You can listen to or download the full Jennifer Francis interview here, and/or read the blog about it here.
I hope that makes it clear to everyone: the rapid heating of the Arctic will create unstable weather in the Northern hemisphere. In the winter, there may be nastier snow storms, even punishing cold snaps, in large regions. In the summer, there can be longer and hotter heat waves, droughts, and of course extreme rainfall that stalls over a large area, due to the “lazier” Jet Stream. Changes to the Arctic from our release of greenhouse gases are so profound, they are one of the biggest signs and proofs we have entered a new geologic age, the Anthropocene.
Here is another new paper on the whole issue of Arctic changes and weather further south: “The Robustness of Midlatitude Weather Pattern Changes due to Arctic Sea Ice Loss“. It was published October 12, 2016, laad authors Hansw. Chen and Fuqing Zhang, plus Richard B. Alley. In my reading of it, these authors generally agree with what Dr. Ted Shepherd told us on Radio Ecoshock.
Not enough? Still looking to dig deeper? OK, here is another article and a paper I found in my research for this show.
The Melting Arctic and Midlatitude Weather Patterns: Are They Connected?
lead author James Overland, with Jennifer Francis et al
THE HOMESTEADING SUMMIT
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I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.
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The music at the end of this show is a song I used at the very start of Radio Ecoshock, ten years ago. It’s “Mother Earth” by the Canadian musician (and one-man band!) Shane Philips. Check out Shane’s more recent work at his web site here.