Super-heated Arctic creates band of chaos further south – expert climatologist and pro weather caster Judah Cohen explains, with new science. Listen up North America, Europe and East Asia! Then Dr. Andrew Allen reveals why the ocean will store less carbon, as the base of life gets starved in acidic seawater. It’s a new climate feedback. Radio Ecoshock 180328
If you live in North America, especially the Northwest or NorthEast, this winter seems colder at times, with more snow, more long-lasting, and just plain nasty. The UK and Northern Europe got the same. What happened to the nice global warming scientists promised? And sure enough, even the short-term weather models predicted an easy mild winter – except for a small group of scientists who are not watching for El Nino, or La Nina for answers. They are looking at a brand new Arctic that is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. Sea ice is near record low for winter, thin, and easily broken by storms. Snow cover is declining.
So it’s time for some ugly truth from a pioneer in this field: climatologist Judah Cohen. Maybe Northern Hemisphere winters will be worse and wilder for a while, destabilized by rapid heating in the Arctic, even in winter.
In our second interview, a new and unexpected feed-back loop could limit the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean. Since about 90% of our emissions have been hidden in the ocean, this could be serious news. It is deep science on a way life responds to carbon pollution – with a short-cut to more heating, sooner. Can we geoengineer our way out of that? Stay tuned for Dr. Andrew Allen on the new discovery.
Welcome to Radio Ecoshock, and here we go.
JUDAH COHEN – ARCTIC WARMING = ROTTEN WINTERS FURTHER SOUTH
What the heck happened to those warmer winters we were promised with global warming? Don’t ask New Englanders why they are still digging out, or Siberians whether this winter will ever end. We’ve reached one of the few climatologists who predicted this weird bend in climate change. Dr. Judah Cohen is the Director of Seasonal Forecasting at AER. That stands for the private meteorologic company Atmospheric and Environmental Research. Cohen is also a Research Affiliate at the Parsons Lab at MIT, and author of many scientific papers.
His latest paper, with co-authors Karl Pfeiffer & Jennifer Francis was just published March 13 in Nature Communications. The title is “Warm Arctic episodes linked with increased frequency of extreme winter weather in the United States“. Find out more about Dr. Judah Cohen at his web site. His weekly blog “Arctic Oscillation and Polar Vortex Analysis and Forecasts” is here.
Dr. Judah Cohen
When Judah and I talked in January 2017, TV news ran graphics of “the Arctic Vortex”, like a big bulge of cold falling down into the United States. But this year, it seemed like that Arctic cold was split into two, with cold in the West, and another winter blast hitting in the UK and northern Europe. Judah describes what happened and why.
The new paper from Cohen at al says:
“Anthropogenic global warming is widely expected to increase certain types of weather extremes, including more intense and frequent heat waves and droughts as well as heavy precipitation events1. Surprisingly, however, over the past two to three decades, the increase in extreme weather has included more (not fewer) severe cold-air outbreaks and heavy snowfalls observed both in North America and Eurasia.”
So winters may generally get warmer, but during certain periods, from mid-January to mid-February, we can expect and predict snowier cold storms in the U.S. Northeast, and Eurasia. But the impacts of increased extreme winter storms do not stop with winter. If there is more and later snow, that can increase spring flooding, help agricultural irrigation, (or delay planting due to muddy fields). All this matters way beyond the morning commute.
This new paper does employ a tool developed for North American weather-casting: the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index (AWSSI).
Before the work of Cohen, and papers by people like James Overland and Cohen’s co-author Jennifer Francis, mainstream science told us the main driver of winter came from not from the Arctic, but from the Tropics. This new group of scientists find some weather disturbances were not from the El Nino, La Nina cycle, but apparently regulated by conditions in the Arctic – things like low sea ice, low or shorter season snow cover, and even “sudden stratospheric warming”.
The observation are true even though they were not predicted by most climate models. Not all scientists agree with this theory of Arctic causation. Last week I interviewed Dr. Mark Serreze from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder Colorado. He expressed doubts about Arctic drivers of winter weather, saying the jury is still out.
The new Cohen paper says:
“We computed the return period of varying thresholds of snowfall across the US before (1950–1989) and after (1990–2016) the emergence of AA [Arctic Amplification].
Consistent with our earlier results that a warmer Arctic favors heavier snowfalls, we find that across the northeastern US, heavy snowfalls are generally more frequent since 1990, and in many cities the most extreme snowfalls have occurred primarily during recent decades.”
The authors note their results do not apply to the Western United States, which in most cases has seen reduced snowfall.
I realize all this is not what we want to hear. As a Canadian, I was comforted that at least global warming would make the winters less miserable. The last few winters have been worse, although they alternative between warmer than average to really cold and snowy. How can we explain to simplistic climate deniers, that yes, these awful winter storms are likely signs of climate change? But they are.
In this interview, I mention my 2006 show on winter sports. Even the owners of the large resorts, like Aspen and Whistler, wondered out loud if there would still be winter sports. But now in 2018, Judah Cohen just returned from some of the best powder skiing he’s ever seen in New England!
It’s tough to accept that winters in the Northern Hemisphere can get worse even as the planet heats up, due to the way warming strikes the Arctic first and hardest. The models didn’t predict it, but the facts are plain. We still don’t know with certainty the mechanism that connects a hotter Arctic to dirtier winters in a wide band further south. It could be Jet Stream Changes. It could be sudden warming in the Stratosphere, followed by a Polar Vortex pushed down south. We don’t know yet, but what we have to know is that it’s happening. It’s another case of when you heat up a planet too quickly, the unexpected happens.
If you would like to educate yourself further on the coming climate/weather connection, Judah Cohen recommends these two scientific papers:
1. Environmental Research Letters “Arctic warming, increasing snow cover and widespread boreal winter cooling”
2. Nature Geoscience August 17, 2014 “Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather”
A NEW OCEAN CLIMATE FEEDBACK – DR. ANDREW ALLEN
We have new science about how our carbon dumping strikes the food chain in world oceans. Plus how that will reduce ocean storage of carbon, meaning our emissions hit us faster and harder. To get there, we have to peer into microscopic creatures, zip from 700 million years ago to the latest genetic sequencing tech, and understand how we get iron needed to live. It’s a big paper, too big for one show, but we will give it a shot – with our guest scientist Dr. Andrew E. Allen. Andrew is a Joint Associate Professor working with the J. Craig Venter Institute and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California.
Our interview contains a few words of scientific jargon I didn’t know, and you may not know. Don’t let that bother you. Because each response from Dr. Andrew Allen also contains serious news from the science front. I put a glossary of any troubling terms below. I think you are in for a look at science that gathers all the new skills, from genetic exploration to satellites, along with the old skills, and a touch of genius.
The new paper, with lead author J.B. Mcquaid, is titled “Carbonate-sensitive phytotransferrin controls high-affinity iron uptake in diatoms“. It was published March 14 in the journal Nature.
Dr. Andrew Allen at work.
We know that acidification of the ocean makes it more difficult for some plankton to make shells. But I did not know (and it is very new science) that acidification also reduces a form of carbonate necessary for tiny ocean life to capture needed iron. It seems that while the ocean is capturing and sequestering up to 90% of our excess carbon, that will be reduced as the iron crisis increases.
It’s a long. There are limitations like (a) this is so far based on lab studies, whereas life in the “wild” may have some unexpected resiliencies
(b) there are other pathways for iron uptake, but these are not preferred by most plankton, but may develop and
(c) plankton can operate like a network where some species may specialize in gathering iron (but no one knows that for sure). All that said, up to half the iron preferred by diatoms, especially in iron-deprived areas like the Southern Ocean, may become unavailable.
If less carbon is captured by these organisms, more remains in the atmosphere, adding to global heating. That creates more acidification, which kills off more diatoms? We have a possible feedback there.
SO SHOULD WE JUST DUMP IRON INTO THE SEA?
However, Allen is dubious about any plans to geoengineer by dumping more iron in the sea. He explains malevolent algae may result instead. Plus plankton is very fussy about how the iron is packaged, most preferring to get it via glacier dust…
The wiki entry on “iron fertilization” is here. Paul Beckwith has done both a blog and a You tube video on the possibilities of iron fertilization to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
It is interesting that in the interview Dr. Allen kind of downplayed the impact of this iron shortage on carbon capture in the oceans, partly because the science is so new. It’s early days. And yet, it’s also possible that up to 44% of the carbon grabbed by these plentiful diatoms could be left in the atmosphere, if we continue with business as usual. The paper actually says:
“Our results show that under constant Fe [a form of iron], the doubling of CO2 to 800 p.p.m. CO2 can reduce P. tricornutum [a diatom, plankton] Fe uptake rates by 44%.”
I’ve seen articles written about this paper which reach more alarming conclusions. I think scientists, especially good scientists, are very careful. They prefer to stick within the limitations of what we know now – rather than projecting into the future. But of course, someone needs to look forward, especially since the shocking future has already appeared so often, so soon.
GLOSSARY LINKS FOR THE ANDREW ALLEN INTERVIEW
Andy talks about EST sequencing, during his Post Doc in Paris
High nutrient low chlorophyl regions “the naming of three major HNLC zones: the North Pacific Ocean, the Equatorial Pacific Ocean, and the Southern Ocean.”
Transferrin “Transferrins are iron-binding blood plasma glycoproteins that control the level of free iron (Fe) in biological fluids.”
Note the iron transfer genese discovered by Allen et al were first called ISIP2 (iron starvation-induced proteins), and are now called “phytotransferrin”
Anion An anion from the Greek word ???, meaning “up”, is an ion with more electrons than protons, giving it a net negative charge (since electrons are negatively charged and protons are positively charged)” The opposite is a cation.
Psudeo-nitzschia “Pseudo-nitzschia is a marine planktonic diatom genus containing some species capable of producing the neurotoxin domoic acid (DA), which is responsible for the neurological disorder known as amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).” Allen has seen this result from adding addition iron to bottle samples from the Southern Ocean…”
THANKS FOR LISTENING AGAIN THIS WEEK!
I’m Alex. Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock again this week. We are still only less than half way to raising the $5,000 I need to get help expanding our radio station list. It’s not just vanity. We all need to get this serious climate information out as far as possible.
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