Five: Ice-Free Arctic, Wildfires, Albedo, Feedbacks, and Equivalent Emissions.

How Much Heating can we EXPECT from an Ice-Free Arctic Ocean? // Aug 1, 2019

Abrupt Climate System Disruption is clearly accelerating; we are in a global climate EMERGENCY, not yet widely acknowledged by the powers that run our society. This will change very soon, as geopolitics pivots to a fight for our very existence on this planet.

  • The HUGE Achilles Heel of our climate system is the Arctic, and the Blue Ocean Event that is coming at us like a freight train.
  • It will hit us hard, but how hard?

I don’t have anywhere near all the answers but I go through the very latest science and my thoughts on what we can expect in a few short years when Arctic sea-ice vanishes from the top of our planet.

Ref:  ‘Earth-Sun Relationships and Insolation‘:  ‘In the previous topic, we learned that the Earth’s seasons are controlled by changes in the duration and intensity of solar radiation or insolation. Both of these factors are in turn governed by the annual change in the position of the Earth’s axis relative to the Sun‘.
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Arctic Wildfires and Peat Fires Darken Arctic and Emit more Carbon than MANY Countries // Jul 30, 2019

Another HUGE feedback darkening the Arctic and releasing literally tons of Greenhouse Gases are the crazy number of intense, hot, long-burning wildfires in the Arctic that have been decimating boreal forests, and even worse, igniting peat fires.

  • Peat is normally very wet (95% water content), acting as a block to wildfires.

However unprecedented Arctic warming this June/July has desiccated (dried out) many peat regions; the resulting compressed spaghnum high in carbon is igniting from wildfires and lightning strikes. Peat fires are bad news; able to burn deep into the ground, and last for weeks, months, and even years.
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Arctic Albedo Change with ZERO Sea-Ice: Devil is always in the Details; CLOUDS, in this Case // Jul 30, 2019

As I often say in my videos, “the devil is always in the details.” The study that equates a complete loss of Arctic Sea-Ice to 25 years of emissions has the assumption that cloud cover was essentially unchanged, which is not likely a decent assumption but a first step.

The paper than goes on to say that if clouds vanished, the sea-ice loss effect would be even larger by a whopping factor of three, and that if the sky above the newly opened water had 100% cloud coverage the sea-ice loss albedo effect would be reduced by a factor of two!! Which is it?

  • I expect cloud coverage would increase above the open water, and by Google Scholar searching a new paper shows that about 81% of the sky is cloudy over the vanquished sea-ice, so that modifies albedo but by how much??
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Total Loss of Arctic Sea-Ice Will Cause Warming Equal to 25 Years of Present Emissions // Jul 30, 2019

A new peer-reviewed scientific paper just came out arguing that a complete loss of Arctic sea-ice will have an equivalent warming impact to:

  • 25 years of global CO2 emissions (25 years x present emissions of 40 GTco2/year = 1 Trillion Tons of CO2).
  • This 57 ppm increase of CO2 concentration equivalence causes a radiative forcing averaged globally of 0.7 W/m2, except it’s concentrated in the Arctic.

As we have emitted 2.4 Trillion Tons of CO2 since the start of the industrial revolution, 1 Trillion Tons is HUGE, and will propel us like a ballistic missile to a much warmer world, miles above the 2 degree C Paris “safe level”.

Ref:  ‘Research Highlight: Loss of Arctic’s Reflective Sea Ice Will Advance Global Warming by 25 Years‘, ‘Radiative Heating of an Ice‐Free Arctic Ocean‘, Pistone, Eisenman and Ramanathan, 20 June 2019.

Abstract: During recent decades, there has been dramatic Arctic sea ice retreat. This has reduced the top‐of‐atmosphere albedo, adding more solar energy to the climate system. There is substantial uncertainty regarding how much ice retreat and associated solar heating will occur in the future…
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Rapidly Darkening Arctic is a Powerful Warming Feedback // Jul 30, 2019

As the Arctic continues to rapidly warm, losing sea-ice, land-based snow cover, and be exposed to high latitude wildfires, peat fires, and rain versus snow it literally becomes a darker place.

  • Overall Arctic albedo (reflectivity) in 1979 was 52%, declining to 48% by 2011, measured by CERES instruments on satellites.

I’d love to find data from 2011 to present, which will most certainly show a continued, even accelerated albedo decline. A darker Arctic absorbs much more solar energy causing Arctic temperature amplification. I chat about the vital significance of changing albedo and consequences to our climate system.
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About paulbeckwith

Well known climate science educator; Part-time Geography professor (climatology, oceanography, environmental issues), University of Ottawa. Physicist. Engineer. Master's Degree in Science in Laser Optics, Bachelors of Engineering, in Engineering Physics. Won Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario gold medal. Also interested in investment and start-ups in climate solutions, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Avid chess player, and likes restoring old homes. Married with children.
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