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Unforced Variations: Nov 2020

Filed under: — group @ 2 November 2020

This month’s open thread for climate science. As if there wasn’t enough going on, we have still more hurricanes in the Atlantic, temperature records tumbling despite La Niña, Arctic sea ice that doesn’t want to reform, bushfire season kicking off in the Southern Hemisphere while we are barely done with it in the North…

Welcome to the new normal, folks.

169 Responses to “Unforced Variations: Nov 2020”

  1. 151
    Al Bundy says:

    Kevin’s link: We use geophysical evidence and fluid-flow modeling to estimate that this single event would have amounted to ∼10% of present‐day annual natural methane emissions.

    AB: That’s reassuring. 10% of annual natural methane emissions once-or-even-five-times-in-a-century is, like, nothing. The numbers needed to move the needle are gargantuan. Remember the California natural gas storage cave that blew? Not big enough to be noticed on a global level.

  2. 152
    mike says:

    Nice explanation of your concern at 148, Al.

    I share your concern along pretty much exactly the same lines with a couple of exceptions. I don’t think I would mention the possible huge bubble of methane that might be present. It might be there, but discussion of that bubble is like red meat to the folks who want to belittle the polar amplification concerns and dismiss them under the quite unpredictable event of an imminent massive release of CH4. No reason to throw out that red meat imho. The warming that might come with a steady release of CH4 and CO2 from warmed hydrates and permafrost is a sufficiently serious matter and not so easily dismissed.

    To go back to the Semiletov and Gustaffson report in the Guardian about CH4 in the Laptev Sea, they reported emissions at sea surface of 4 to 8 times the normal level. That is not a huge burp imo, but it is a cause for concern and suggestion that things may have changed in the Laptev Sea. I am being patient and waiting for those folks to publish in peer reviewed journal and put some meat on the bones of their initial report.



  3. 153
    b fagan says:

    I’m in IT, so I’ll allow that maybe NOAA’s NCEI just picked the Thanksgiving Weekend to do a major update to some of their systems. I’ll allow that they might have clumsily taken services offline without putting up a posted maintenance window message. But Trumpski’s have a history of Thanksgiving Surprise when they released the 2018 National Climate Assessment this same weekend.

    But as of 1:30pm EST on Saturday the 28th, at least the following NOAA links give Service Unavailable, HTTP 503 errors:

    Climate At a Glance

    State of the Climate including all monthly links

    NCEI’s Full List of CLimate Monitoring Products

    Many of the links on the Climate Extremes page’s main text
    U.S. Records Index is down
    Climate Extremes Index
    U.S. Billion Dollar Weather Disasters
    National Climate Extremes Committee

    So. I don’t know that it’s innocent, but there is an awful lot of our taxpayer-funded information that’s unavailable right now.

    PS – the NOAA page for Climate Change and Variability still references the third US National Climate Assessment, not the fourth one that they sneak-released two years ago.

  4. 154
    Al Bundy says:

    Ray Ladbury: Not only that, but if you read what he says, he sounds like an utter loon. What possible upside is there to debating a nutjob

    AB: Good question. I agree that it is unlikely to be productive…
    … IF one goes about it all proper and stiff.

    But if you LAUGH, LAUGH, and helplessly GUFFAW to the point of tears whenever the twit says something funny as Hell, then maybe you can move the needle in a good direction. Laughter ain’t “interrupting” and it speaks way louder than words.

  5. 155
    Al Bundy says:

    lolololol. …Breathing, getting a handle on oneself…. “Sorry. Sorry. I thought this was going to be a debate. I came prepared for intellectual discussion. I wasn’t ready for such outrageous comedy but I have to admit that it is really really good work. I am way impressed, Joseph.”

    Then Joe says another whopper and you laugh even louder. Not your fault, BPL. Joe does great comedy. Be sure to repeatedly compliment him.

  6. 156
    MA Rodger says:

    Al Bundy @148,
    I’ll take your assessment of my Arctic CH4 comment @137 being “the mainstream position” as thus achieving my intention. And if there is significant work sitting beyond the “the mainstream position” it would be worthwhile to identify it.

    But I don’t think the Earth’s core (which is very hot) is a factor in warming up the permafrost from below in a ‘dynamic’ manner. The warm interior is too well insulated from the sirface resulting in a very gradual temperature gradient with depth. Consider the ocean depths which sit above the thinnest part of the Earth’s insulating crust yet it is the freezing poles that dictate th temperature of the ocean depths, not the molten core.
    Of course, in frozen parts of the globe, it is the gradial temperature with depth that will dictate the thickness of permafrost, this more staticly that dynamically because rock is a good insulator.

    The one point where I would assume/speculate the Earth’s internal temperature becomes a factor of climate (in the broadest meaning of the term) would be when the rock surface is insulated from the atmosophere by a thick ice sheet. This would allow temperatures at that rock surface to rise.
    Thus the temperature at the base of the Greenland ice sheet is significantly elevated by bedrock warming (as the graphic on this NASA web page shows). That will impact the flow of the ice. The melting point of ice does start dropping a bit with pressure (reversing and starting to rise again if depths exceed above 20,000m, although such a depth would be quite an achievement on Earth!!) but it’s only by a couple of deg C for Greenland’s 2,500m. Yet that lowering of melt point and warmer base of the ice sheet (relative to the top) surely helps the ice flow out to the coast.
    Beyond that, and of course volcanism, I don’t see a role for the molten Earth’s core in climate – the bedrock provides too much insulation.

    The other prospect you present is the sub-surface production of methane. I can’t say I’ve met any such phenomenon presented in the literature. But I’m willing to learn.

  7. 157
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Al Bundy,
    I would also note that the center of Earth is also 4000 miles from the surface. The heat flux from the core is negligible compared to the energy arriving from the Sun–except in some local regions where magma comes near the surface. And even here, it’s limited–I don’t think Yellowstone’s climate is altered significantly by being over one of the largest Continental hotspot.

  8. 158
    Al Bundy says:

    Piotr: The hot plate gives off ~ 0.1 W/m2…
    negligible compared to(~2.3 W/m2?)…

    not important – the best proof is that permafrost formed at all – meaning that the cooling of the atmosphere overpowered the heating from the bottom.

    It does not say that the methane belch won’t happen, rather that if it happens, it will be because we melted the top off, not because we heated the bottom.

    0.1 * 10,000 years = 1,000 units
    2.3 * 100 years = 230 units

    And that’s not counting the warmer-than-average Eemian nor the less-cold-than-average last glaciation. (real question: are those descriptions accurate?)

    Put a soda in the freezer. Pull it out at the proper time and you’ll have semi-super-cooled heaven. But wait too long and ::BOOM::. But until you experience the catastrophe once you won’t have a clue how much margin for error you have.

    mike: One problem that I have with things like discussion of things like a net zero energy grid by 2050 is that they seldom include a road map for how we get there with detailed mile markers along the way

    AB: YES! I laugh whenever I hear a politician proudly proclaim how their pronouncement will force future politicians to solve a problem the speaker isn’t actually tackling.

    MA Rodger,
    Good link. The temperature vs depth graphs are quite informative.

    Personally, I think the risk of a catastrophic release is rather small. Permafrost isn’t like a balloon, where one prick releases all the gas. And it isn’t homogenous. The can of soda analogy I gave above fails because it is the equivalent of saying, “if I roll a six 1000 times in a row then…”. The can blows as a unit. Permafrost blows one teensy bit at a time. That’s why I had to incorporate bottom-up heating and some sort of natural concentration that could be degraded by flowing water in my hypothesis (melt under a river causes a collapse, river starts flowing through the CH4 reservoir below the permafrost, everything from there to a bit offshore gets shredded). Otherwise, there’s no way to “unitize” the release. And even then, getting enough CH4 out quickly enough feels tenuous.

    A centuries-to-millennia-long case of Pop-Rocks is the more likely future. But the discussion was about catastrophic release so I gave my best hypothetical scenario. Of course, one of the alternative futures might not be much more palatable:

    The Earth is big. When its arctic maw starts eating all that thawing candy and peatlands warm so as to properly season their fuel (putting out underground fires is a b*tch; they’ll burn for decades or centuries) humanity’s emissions might have to invert.

    Is it bad on a car going 90MPH to jam it into reverse while a second car is pushing yours at maximum torque?

  9. 159
    MA Rodger says:

    Mike @151,
    This reply is mitigation-speak so not truly on-topic on this UV thread but briefly….
    The idea of “mile markers” on the road to zero carbon emissions still leaves a couple of pitpalls. The UK has had Carbon Budgets since it passed into law its 2008 Climate Change Act. This requires carbon budgets to be set at 5-yearly intervals.
    The first problem is that having achieved the first three budgets, complacency at achieving these easy victories and the inheritance of power by the naturally-denialist Tories means the 4th & 5th budgets will not be achieved.
    The second problem is caused by a change in the final target. In 2019 the target for 2050 was tightened from 80% reduction to a 100% reduction (ie zero carbon). But the first adjustment that will be made to the budgets will apparently be the 6th budget which covers 2033-37. A webpage from the Grantham Institute gives an explainer for UK Carbon Budgets.
    So it’s not just “mile markers” you need.

  10. 160
    jb says:

    b fagan at 154

    The sites seem to be back up – maybe because you caught them in the act. Maybe not.

  11. 161
    James McDonald says:

    zebra@124, kevein@126:

    The paper I alluded to is:

    Hansen, James, Makiko Sato, and Reto Ruedy. “Perception of climate change.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109.37 (2012): E2415-E2423.

    The major point of the paper is that a moderate shift in the mean of a normal distribution (say 1 or 2 SD) will have a much more dramatic effect on outliers than on values near the mean, so such a shift should become apparent with a dramatic change in the frequency of events out around 4 or 5 SD. Such events are also easy to spot, making them canaries in the coal mine.

    In the data they use to discuss this they somewhat parenthetically note that as the mean for heat-related events has shifted upward, so has the variance, and they don’t attempt to make a complete explanation for that, but do suggest maybe half of that increase in variance is due to better resolution in the newer data.

  12. 162
    mike says:

    at MAR at 160: agree on/with all that, which is why I am much more interested in the project of cutting emissions in half by 2030. Half by 2030 is gaining traction as a near term goal. I think the how we do that cut belongs on the FR thread, but maybe the state of the planet in 2030, with an atmospheric CO2 reading of anything in the range of 435 ppm (plus or minus 10 ppm, I guess) is a good fit on UV because it is about the state of the natural world as modeled and predicted based on naturally occurring changes and conditions on the planet. It does not seem like it some days, but CO2-spouting human beings have been a significant natural feature of the planet now for a couple of centuries.

    Thanks for a very level and well-grounded reply.



  13. 163
    mike says:

    Topic: methane, laptev sea, polar amplification, etc. This guy has a nice english accent and pleasant delivery and his read and commentary on the situation we are in is similar to my own, so, I think he’s a smart guy who is on the right track. You may draw other conclusions.

    “It’s important not to get too carried away with hypothetical hyperbole…”

    at around 8:50.

    that’s right, just look at the data and consider the risks and think a bit about what might be happening in the far north.



  14. 164
    Killian says:

    Twitter: @CO2_earth
    415.50 parts per million (ppm) #CO2 in the atmosphere November 29, 2020
    Up from 410.67 ppm a year ago.

    415.5 – 410.67 = +4.83

    There have been multiple days of 4+ year-on-year readings.

    I’m sure it’s nothing…

  15. 165
    b fagan says:

    JB @161 – I’d had email from two people there this morning. There’d been some issues over the last couple of weeks and they don’t staff weekends (lucky).

    The Climate at a Glance has been down from time to time in the past, but they’d done a nice update to it a while back and this is the first time it’s not been functioning. The coincidence of date, Trump’s recent appointment of Legates, and the general vandalism they’re trying to finish before they go had me thinking thoughts that normally would have me checking the tin foil on my hat.

  16. 166
    Oscar Anton Wehmanen says:

    A tiny data point: When I was doing oil (1980) it was said that the lakes in northern Alaska in summer were bubbling vigorously. Several times geologists pointed out CH4 hydrate deposits in the shallow (a few hundred feet) sediments of the Gulf of Mexico. These are probably very small on a global basis, but …

  17. 167
    Piotr says:

    AB @159: Piotr: “The hot plate gives off ~ 0.1 W/m, negligible compared to [the anthropogenic heating from the top (~2.3 W/m2)”
    AB: “ 0.1 * 10,000 years = 1,000 units
    2.3 * 100 years = 230 units

    Piotr: I don’t think you can just take instantaneous heat flow and multiply it by… 10,000 years, because this would require that the heat … just accumulates there – i.e. there is no heat loss, no diffusion of that heat through the permafrost into the air over timescale of …10,000 years.

    And why this accumulated heat – hasn’t melted yet … the permafrost on Antarctica, some of it, say, 45 mln yrs old? You know:

    you: 0.1 * 10,000 years = 1,000 units of heat
    Antarctica: 0.1 * 45,000,000 years = 4,500,000 units of heat

    AB: “ Put a soda in the freezer. Pull it out at the proper time and you’ll have semi-super-cooled heaven. But wait too long and ::BOOM::. But until you experience the catastrophe once you won’t have a clue how much margin for error you have.

    Ok, say, I tried. The soda has been in my freezer for 1 year now and it didn’t go ::BOOM:: on me yet. But you say that I have “no clue” whether it wouldn’t go :: BOOM:: in the next … 70 sec. ^*?

    (^*to be on the safe side, I assumed the “imminent” to be within the next 100 yrs)

  18. 168
    Al Bundy says:

    mike: This guy has a nice english accent and

    AB: I can’t fathom how anyone voluntarily taught their kids to degrade their diction to Ugly American.

    Man, NOBODY prefers USAian accents over the Brits and Irish. Or am I wrong? (Maybe Southern Belles….)

    But yes, “Just have a Think” is grand. He’s honest, thorough, and not even slightly egotistical. I have no doubt that if he posted something he subsequently found to be totally false he’d immediately inform his viewers.

  19. 169
    Al Bundy says:

    Piotr: Ok, say, I tried. The soda has been in my freezer for 1 year now and it didn’t go ::BOOM:: on me yet. But you say that I have “no clue” whether it wouldn’t go :: BOOM:: in the next … 70 sec. ^*?

    AB: Yes. But as the rest of my posts have made clear, since there are a bazillion :::BOOMS::: and they are relatively independent, this whole path is severely constrained and unlikely.

    My realistic fear is natural CH4 and CO2 emissions of the sort that have doubtlessly occurred every single time the planet has warmed, as directed by the increase in CO2 concentration happening today (caused by humans) as compared to the increase of CO2 and CH4 concentration (caused by whatever) long ago.

    Scientists keep harping about how there is NO risk of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations other than by direct injection by humans. That is ludicrous. And yes, scientists haven’t ACTUALLY said that. But read the words. That’s what they convey.