Dr. Judah Cohen explains why waves of extreme cold and snow are more likely – BECAUSE the world is warming. Then we go to a last stand for the mighty Amazon rainforest with veteran Kerry Bowman. The Amazon absorbs up to 10% of the greenhouse gases we dump into the atmosphere daily. Now it is starting to leak carbon dioxide. That’s bad.
EXTREME WINTER STORMS DURING GLOBAL WARMING
Remember when the Texas grid fell down last winter and millions suffered? Our guest says that 2021 freeze might have been the most expensive in history, doing more costly damage than any hurricane. The media has forgotten the whole episode, but people who live and work in those flash frozen southern states have not.
By the way, you did not hear that in that same month of February 2021, as Texans froze without power, there was also record cold in China early that month. This was a global weather distortion. All this begins to make sense once you understand the master pattern described by our first guest.
In 2018, I asked if the planet is warming, why this awful winter weather? In February 2021, a wild cold snap crippled people and power right down to Texas. Will it happen again next winter?
Our guest Dr. Judah Cohen thinks he knows why brutal winter storms are hitting parts of the Northern Hemisphere, even though winters and the world are supposed to be warming. Judah Cohen is the Director of Seasonal Forecasting at AER. That stands for the private meteorology company Atmospheric and Environmental Research. Cohen is also a Research Affiliate at the Parsons Lab at MIT, and author of many scientific papers.
Dr. Judah L. Cohen, AER and MIT
Now Judah Cohen and his colleagues have published their most definitive statement on the ways a warming Arctic can bring cold outbreaks to parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The paper “Linking Arctic variability and change with extreme winter weather in the United States” was published in the journal Science in September 2021.
SUDDEN STRATOSPHEREIC WARMING
Let’s dig into the science behind new winter forecasting. Scientists discovered new disruptive activities in the Stratosphere. People were intrigued and alarmed to learn about Sudden Stratospheric Warming. They sound like powerful events, and similar to what we worry may happen closer to us on the surface, some kind of sudden warming. But this is different. Temperatures in the stratosphere, more than 7.5 miles or 12 km. up, can warm an incredible 70 degrees C, or 110 F, in a matter of days! Remember that does not directly translate to similar warming down on the ground or ocean.
INTRODUCING STRATOSPHERIC POLAR VORTEX “STRETCHING”
This new paper from Cohen et al says Sudden Stratospheric Warming events are actually decreasing since 1990. A different, more subtle kind of disturbance of the upper atmosphere is increasing. Going by observation (actual weather records), Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW) is more associated with extreme cold in Eurasia (mostly N. Europe, Russia, and N. China). Conversely the less studied “stretching” of the Stratospheric Polar Vortex is associated with cold spells in Eastern North America.
“Stretching” is less dramatic, and really it took machine-assisted learning to tease out these patterns from satellite images and other sources. Only recently has their importance been understood. In the interview, Judah says the stretched polar vortex is the Rodney Dangerfield of polar vortexes. It doesn’t get respect like SSW.
Once we know these patterns in the upper atmosphere, it may be possible to predict the arrival of extreme winter storms, in some places, up to two weeks in advance. This gives municipal planners and other government agencies time to prepare (more plows ready, sand, salt, etc). Perhaps this ability to read changes in the Polar Stratosphere will make it into TV weather forecasts, giving the public perhaps a week’s warning (get those snow tires on, a week’s worth of gas and groceries…)
But many other corporations and institutions would love to know when major winter disturbances will arrive. For example, natural gas traders might want to bid on more supplies for a cold snap. Government agencies, including the military would appreciate even a week’s solid warning to watch out for extreme winter weather. Judah works for the company AER which provides climate predictions for many clients.
Of course climate deniers will shout out with each storm: “Where is your global warming now?” Trump did that. But as you now learn, a rapidly warming Arctic has disrupted the engines of weather here below.
SNOW COVER IS INCREASING DURING WINTER WARMING
Nature does not operate to please the human understanding. A decade ago scientists and the media suggested winter snow may become a thing of the past in some places. Instead, as Cohen explains in this helpful PBS video, the number of extreme snow events has TRIPLED during the last decade, compared to all decades back to 1958.
We are getting extreme precipitation events arriving as snow, with massive snow dumps. But perhaps more important, in parts of both Russia and North America the snow is coming earlier in the Fall, starting in October. Although in most places snow began to melt sooner in the Spring, it is my understanding from Judah that the overall snow cover has increased.
As I point out to Judah, some scientists still disagree with this theory of stratospheric polar drivers of winter storms. Dr. Mark Serreze at the National Snow and Ice Data Center discounts it. Judah acknowledges disagreements, but suggests the media, the public, and young scientists without preconceptions get it.
Some climate theories can only be tested over decades or longer. The results of Judah Cohen’s forecasting tools are posted in his blog every week during the N. Hemisphere winter. Check it out, and see how his forecasts play out.
Follow Judah Cohen on Twitter
WATCH THIS EXCELLENT PBS TERRA VIDEO WITH JUDAH COHEN EXPLAINING…
Why on Earth are Winters Getting Worse if the Planet is Getting Warmer? Weathered 304,929 views Feb 1, 2021
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AMAZON GOING DOWN
When the sea ice hit a shocking low in 2007 we all knew climate change had tipped. Now we have news of another dangerous line crossed: the Amazon rainforest, the so-called lungs of the planet, is starting to exhale carbon dioxide, instead of capturing it.
The revelation comes quietly in a paper published in the key journal Nature. It came out almost un-noticed in mid-July, during a pandemic, wildfires, and social distress. The title is: “Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change.” This has global implications for warming. We all need to pay attention.
Dr. Kerry Bowman knows the Amazon. Kerry is a difficult man to describe, teaching in two faculties, the Faculty of Medicine and the Department of School of Environment – at the Canadian University of Toronto.
Dr. Kerry Bowman, University of Toronto
The Amazon is an ecological system that spans from Brazil into seven other countries in South America. It is a biological hot spot with countless species not found anywhere else. Scientists tell us the gushing water cycle in this South American rainforest partly determine life-giving rains in Africa.
News and new science is coming in almost as fast as the Amazon is disappearing. Let’s get to the big ticket item: countless studies and reports assume the Amazon rainforest captures at least 5% of the emissions we humans dump into the atmosphere. But a new study led by Brazilian researcher Luciana Gatti finds part of the rainforest has tipped, letting out more greenhouse gas than it consumes.
We need to be clear. A few too many headlines say the Amazon rainforest has flipped. But this new paper in Nature finds only the Eastern part, certainly a huge area, has become a carbon source instead of a sink. The rest may follow, partly depending on the actions taken by the Brazilian government and people.
Dr. Gatti simply says the Amazon change is partly because of deforestation. As we speak, the anti-environmental President of Brazil, Jair Bolsinaro, has asked the courts to quash the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon. He wants logging, mining, and widespread settlement of the Amazon, comparing it to settling the Old West in America.
SEE: “Amazonia as a carbon source linked to deforestation and climate change“. Luciana V. Gatti et al., Published: 14 July 2021 (Abstract only, full paper behind paywall). This Brazilian team took 590 measurements by aircraft between 2010 and 2018 – solid observational science. They find “total carbon emissions are greater in eastern Amazonia than in the western part”. The Eastern Amazon has more deforestation, warming, and drought than the Western part.
Dr. Peter Cox at the University of Exeter is author of a year 2000 paper in Nature about “Acceleration of global warming due to carbon-cycle feedbacks.” Cox says
“the remaining intact Amazon rainforest currently absorbs 5-10% of human CO2 emissions, helping to slow climate change.”
News on the Amazon is like a firehose blasting away. For example, three Brazilian scientists just published a letter in early September calling for the Amazon to move way up on the agenda for COP 26, the big climate meeting in Glasgow this winter. The UK promised a truly global meeting, but we just learned some delegates have not seen the promised COVID-19 shots that would allow them to attend. One negotiator from the Democratic Republic of Congo told Climate Home News “The biggest frustration is the feeling that some are trying to organise the summit without the participation of certain countries – the feeling that the UK government is telling us: don’t come.”
My friends say the COP Climate conferences are where climate action goes to die. Does it matter what happens in Glasgow this winter?
WHEN HUMANS MAY NOT SURVIVE: THE ITALIAN THEORY
Then we have a strange but challenging paper from two Italian physicists, published in 2020. The title sounds mundane “Deforestation and world population sustainability: a quantitative analysis.”
The paper led by Mauro Bologna says civilization has already killed off one third of all forest cover on Earth. At our current rate of destruction, forests would be gone in one to two hundred years. As that happens, they say, civilization itself has less than a 10% chance of surviving.
FORESTS AND POPULATION GROWTH
Whether we agree with their model or not, the 2020 paper from Mauro Bologna raises another difficult problem: the relationships between population growth and inevitable forest destruction. I presume part of the pressure on the Amazon rainforest is a simple need for more people to find food, space and housing. Is there a direct relationship between continuing population growth and forest decline?
SEE “Deforestation and world population sustainability: a quantitative analysis” by Mauro Bologna & Gerardo Aquino, published May 6, 2020 in Scientific Reports. This is an open access article, free to read.
FORESTS GONE WITHIN 100 YEARS ? ! ?
Bologna and Aquino say:
“…before the development of human civilisations, our planet was covered by 60 million square kilometres of forest. As a result of deforestation, less than 40 million square kilometres currently remain.
The deforestation of the planet is a fact. Between 2000 and 2012, 2.3 million Km2 of forests around the world were cut down which amounts to 2 10(5) Km2 per year. At this rate all the forests would disappear approximatively (sic) in 100-200 years.”
SLASHING FORESTS TO GET OFF THE PLANET
This paper also seriously tries to consider the amount of energy and forest reduction required to launch humans into outer space to develop on another planet. They say just the effort to reach that level of technology creates such ecological damage that we have only a 10% chance of succeeding before utter collapse of civilization, or even extinction.
Here is a good article by EcoWatch about this unusual paper on the Amazon. It is worth the read. Or get it from Vice, with this headline: “Theoretical Physicists Say 90% Chance of Societal Collapse Within Several Decades” By Nafeez Ahmed.
This is not wild-sci stuff. We have Elon Musk and other billionaires claiming humans need to get off the planet. They are testing and launching multiple space craft. Bologna et al, both physicists, say that drive into space requires more than the planet can give. Therefore collapse is most likely. Worth a thought.
NOTE: THE RATE OF DEFORESTATON IS SLOWING
According to the 2020 State of the World’s Forests report published by the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) jointly with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the rate of global deforestation has been declining over the last few decades.
From the 1990s to the period between 2010 and 2020, the net loss of forest area decreased from 7.8 million hectares per year to 4.7 million hectares per year. One reason for this is that despite ongoing deforestation, new forests are also being established, both naturally and through deliberate planning.
But the rate of deforestation also appears to have declined in real-terms. In the 1990s, the UN report states that the rate of deforestation was around 16 million hectares per year. Between 2015 and 2020, this had declined to an estimated 10 million hectares per year.
In absolute terms, the UN report shows that global forest area still decreased overall by a colossal 178 million hectares between 1990 and 2020, an area about the size of Libya.
WOOD IS NOT A SUSTAINABLE RESOURCE TO REPLACE FOSSIL FUELS
Another other key point: climate change wrecks the common belief that wood is a sustainable resource. Changes in heat, drought, and super-fires can mean a clear-cut forest does NOT successfully re-grow. Everyone from climate modelers to politicians still think wood consumption is sustainable.
There is so much talk of using wood as a “green” fuel. They call it biomass. Right now, countries in Europe, including the UK, are importing wood cut from forests all over the world, to burn as supposedly green fuel.
On the consumer level, some folks are repelled by the wave of plastic products. We see wood as authentic. I wonder if that belief may help power another consumer wave cutting down the trees.
According to the United Nations, between 1990 and 2020 this planet lost 178 million hectares, about 440 million acres of forests. An area the size of Libya has gone bald.
Returning to our everyday lives, it is hard to digest big-scale changes like the Amazon tipping into a carbon source. It is hard to worry about a far-away Brazilian jungle, when our own homes are threatened by giant wildfires or extreme floods. How do we integrate hard new realities into things we can actually change?
PREVIOUS RADIO ECOSHOCK SHOW with Kerry Bowman: Exploring Darkness by Land and Sea Feb 12, 2020
VALUABLE BACKGROUND PIECES ON THE AMAZON AS A CARBON SOURCE
Valuable background pieces on the Amazon as a carbon source
Along with meteorologist Bob Henson’s concurrent YCC post on research on the Amazon as a carbon source, check these additional resources.
by SUEELLEN CAMP
meteorologist/journalist Bob Henson’s comprehensive look
Brazil’s Amazon is now a carbon source, unprecedented study reveals (Liz Kimbrough, Mongabay); the embedded short video about what happens when the rainforest is cut is also informative
Amazon rainforest now emitting more carbon than it absorbs (Damian Carrington, The Guardian)
Southeast Amazonia is no longer a carbon sink (Scott Denning, Nature News and Views)
“When will the Amazon hit a tipping point?” (Ignacio Amigo, Nature)
Could climate change and deforestation spark Amazon “dieback”? (Peter Cox, Carbon Brief)
As soy frenzy grips Brazil, deforestation closes in on Indigenous lands (Ana Ionova, Mongabay)
I can’t believe you made it to the end of the blog. I post a full 40 hour work week’s worth of research here every Wednesday. Hopefully activists, students, and curious humans around the world will take time to use this blog as an educational resource. It may also help you plan your future realistically, and become an environmental activist.
Thank you for listening, and caring about this world.