Blog Archive

Monday, May 8, 2017

Joe Romm: Carbon pollution is suffocating ocean life and speeding up the next mass extinction

Oxygen levels ‘falling 2 to 3 times faster than predicted’ in our warming oceans, study finds

Much of the ocean is seeing sharp drops in oxygen levels (purple). CREDIT: Georgia Tech.

by Joe Romm, Climate Progress, May 8, 2017
Depletion of dissolved oxygen in our oceans, which can cause dead zones, is occurring much faster than expected, a new study finds.
And by combining oxygen loss with ever-worsening ocean warming and acidification, humans are re-creating the conditions that led to the worst-ever extinction, which killed over 90% of marine life 252 million years ago.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology reviewed ocean data going back to 1958 and “found that oxygen levels started dropping in the 1980s as ocean temperatures began to climb.”
Scientists have long predicted that as carbon pollution warms the globe, the amount of oxygen in our oceans would drop, since warmer water can’t hold as much dissolved gas as colder water. And, Georgia Tech researchers point out, falling oxygen levels have recently led to more frequent low-oxygen events that “killed or displaced populations of fish, crabs and many other organisms.”
But what is especially worrisome about this new research is how quickly it is happening. “The trend of oxygen falling is about two to three times faster than what we predicted from the decrease of solubility associated with the ocean warming,” said lead researcher Prof. Taka Ito. “This is most likely due to the changes in ocean circulation and mixing associated with the heating of the near-surface waters and melting of polar ice.”
Global warming drives ocean stratification — the separation of the ocean into relatively distinct layers. This in turn speeds up oxygen loss, as explained in this 2015 video.

2011 study, “Rapid expansion of oceanic anoxia immediately before the end-Permian mass extinction,” found that rapid and widespread anoxia (absence of oxygen) preceded “the largest mass extinction in Earth history, with the demise of an estimated 90 percent of all marine species.”
As National Geographic reported in 2015, we’re already starting to see the impacts of anoxia. “The waters of the Pacific Northwest, starting in 2002, intermittently have gotten so low in oxygen that at times they’ve smothered sea cucumbers, sea stars, anemones, and Dungeness crabs,” the magazine reported.
Finally, a 2015 study found there is no techno-fix to prevent a catastrophic collapse of ocean life for centuries if not millennia if we continue current CO2 emissions trends through 2050.
If we don’t start slashing carbon pollution, then, as co-author John Schellnhuber put it, “we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it.”
Thanks to Samantha Page.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Catastrophic mesoscale convective system storms in the Sahel now three times more likely

Climate change brings more Sahel storms

Climate change is upsetting rainfall patterns and the frequency of flooding in West Africa as it makes the region's Sahel storms three times likelier.

by Tim Radford, Climate News Network, May 7, 2017

– Climate change has already made a difference to life in the West African Sahel, the arid belt of land stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea which separates the Sahara desert from the African savanna. It has made catastrophic storms three times more frequent.

And, according to a new study in the journal Nature, Sahel storms are among the most powerful on the planet. In 2009, one vast downpour deposited 263 mm of rain over Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, claiming 8 lives, flooding half the city and forcing 150,000 people out of their homes.

Researchers believe the pattern of thunderstorms known as mesoscale convective systems will increase in frequency as global temperatures rise, as a consequence of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in turn driven by worldwide use of fossil fuels as sources of energy.

Mesoscale convective systems are big, bad, and very cold columns of thunderous cloud: up to 16 km high, covering an area of 25,000 square kilometres, and with temperatures at the highest altitude as low as minus 40 °C.

Between 1986 and 2005, Burkina Faso registered floods at a rate of little more than one a year. In the 11 years between 2006 and 2016, it was hit by 55 flood events.

Repeated warnings

Climate scientists have been warning for three decades that global warming will be accompanied by an increase in “extreme” events: in particular drought, flood, heat wave, and tropical cyclone.

Global warming has already been observed in the Sahel, and the consequences have not necessarily been bad: overall, precipitation has increased, and farmers have benefited, although in a dryland region south of the Sahara where people have endured a 2,000-year history of periodic drought, famine remains a constant hazard.

And now, so do massive downpours of rain: the Sahel storms. British and French scientists examined 35 years of satellite data and the rain gauges in the region to identify a rise in extreme daily rainfall totals. They found 85% of extreme rainfall cases coincided with satellite records of a passing mesoscale convection system.

They also examined the pattern of temperatures over the region and found that although the annual average temperatures have risen, the so-called “wet season” temperatures have remained steady. That is, locally warmer conditions alone have not brought more rainfall.

“Global warming is expected to produce more intense storms, but we were shocked to see the speed of changes taking place in this region of Africa”

Instead, they blame man-made global warming which has changed wind and rain conditions, and this will go on strengthening during this century, “suggesting the Sahel will experience particularly marked increases in extreme rain,” they conclude.

“Global warming is expected to produce more intense storms, but we were shocked to see the speed of changes taking place in this region of Africa,” said Christopher Taylor, a meteorologist at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who led the study.

His co-author Douglas Parker, professor of meteorology at the University of Leeds in the UK, said: “African storms are highly organised meteorological engines, whose currents extract water from the air to produce torrential rain.

“We have seen these engines becoming more efficient over recent decades, with resulting increases in the frequency of hazardous events.”

Thursday, May 4, 2017

In controversial move, Brazil may outsource Amazon deforestation monitoring

Fires and deforestation in the Amazon, as seen by a sensor aboard a NASA satellite. NASA Earth Observatory
by Erik Stokstad, Science Magazine,
With reporting by Herton Escobar.

In a major change, Brazil's Ministry of the Environment is looking for a company to help it monitor deforestation in the Amazon. "This is a surprise for everyone … crazy stuff," says Tasso Azevedo, coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimate System and Observatório do Clima in São Paulo and former head of the Brazilian Forest Service. The controversial proposal led to the firing of one of the ministry's top scientists, who is a vice president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  

Since 1988, the ministry has relied on the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) to analyze land cover changes in the Amazon, which holds the world’s largest intact swaths of forest. Efforts to combat deforestation there have been the focus of worldwide interest, in large part because of the region’s rich biodiversity and the forest’s role in shaping regional climate.

The ministry says INPE will continue to monitor the Amazon, but researchers worry that the $25 million annual contract will result in significant duplication of effort, a waste of scarce resources, possible confusion over deforestation rates, and create an apparent conflict of interest for the ministry. 

The data from INPE's remote sensing analyses helped the ministry create and enforce policies that slashed deforestation by 72% between 2004 and 2016. The flagship effort at INPE is the Program for Monitoring Deforestation of the Amazon by Satellite (PRODES), in which technicians analyze LANDSAT data to identify clear-cuts larger than 6.25 hectares and produce a yearly estimate of deforestation in the Amazon.

Since 2004, INPE has added techniques to detect smaller patches of illegal cutting, and also created a program called DETER to provide monthly and weekly updates that could be used for enforcement. The long track record with PRODES and INPE's newer approaches have won praise from international experts. "Brazil is the leading country in terms of monitoring deforestation," says Matthew Hansen of the University of Maryland in College Park. "No one touches Brazil."

But on 20 April, the ministry quietly issued a 160-page request for proposals for "contracting specialized services of support to the infrastructure of geoprocessing and remote sensing activities to meet the demands of environmental monitoring and geoprocessing." The 2-week deadline for proposals closes Thursday, after which the ministry will consider any bids for up to 60 days. The 12-month contract could be extended for up to 5 years. News of the proposal request was first reported Wednesday by Estadão magazine.  

The decision to hire a commercial firm to do remote-sensing analysis was disputed within the ministry. The head of the program to combat deforestation, mathematician Thelma Krug, who helped create PRODES, reportedly objected to the decision. She was dismissed from her position on 19 April, the day before the request for proposals was issued. In a statement, the ministry said she wanted to spend more time on her work for IPCC. "She's a scientist who knows better than anyone in Brazil what's going on with measuring deforestation in the Amazon," says Paulo Moutinho, an ecologist at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brasília. Her firing was "not good news for Brazilian society or those trying to protect the forest."  

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said that the purpose of the contract is to add technology, such as radar imagery, not available from INPE. The space agency will continue to monitor and estimate deforestation in the Amazon, the ministry said, and disputed that work done under the contract would be redundant with INPE’s activities. But Raoni Rajão, a social scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, says that much of the work called for by the bid request is already being done by INPE, so hiring a contractor to replicate it is "basically a waste of money." The contract would eat up 18% of the ministry's budget, which was cut 51% in March to $142 million. That's money that could be better spent fighting illegal logging, which rose 29% last year, says Carlos Souza, a remote sensing expert with Imazon, a research institute in Belém.

There's also the potential for conflict of interest, critics say. The ministry would be paying a company to evaluate deforestation, which is one measure of how well the ministry is doing its job. That raises important questions, Souza says: "How transparent will the system be? Can it be verified by civil society?"

INPE's methods are transparent and its analysis independent of the ministry, experts say. "If you want to save the Amazon," says Moutinho, "we need a very robust monitoring system of deforestation."
Rajão, who has created an online petition to ask the ministry to cancel the request, also worries that the ministry could cherry-pick deforestation data from the contractor or INPE and highlight the better-looking numbers. Multiple sources of government information could create confusion over the status and trends of deforestation, he says.
A big value of INPE’s annual deforestation estimates is that they offer a simple, clear indicator about how the world's largest rainforest is faring, says tropical ecologist Dan Nepstad of the Earth Innovation Institute in San Francisco, California. "It's become part of the national narrative on the Amazon," he says.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017



We are deeply concerned about inaccurate and misleading statements about the science of climate change that appeared in Climate of Complete Certainty by Bret Stephens (April 28, 2017). While “alternative facts,” misconceptions, and misrepresentations of climate science are unfortunately widespread in public discussion, we are dismayed that this practice appeared on the editorial page of The New York Times.
There are opinions and there are facts. Stephens is entitled to share his opinions, but not “alternative facts.”
Fact: The Northern Hemisphere warmed substantially more than claimed by the writer. The globe warmed by about the amount Stephens claimed the Northern Hemisphere did when he referenced the 2013 IPCC report. The subsequent correction was inadequate, failing to note, for example, that Stephens understated the warming, and that the record warmth in each of the past three years magnifies this mistake.
Using the term “modest” to describe this amount of warming is inaccurate and misleading. Science has found the warming to date to be large and rapid. Much as a fever of only several degrees can be deadly, it only requires a few degrees of warming to transition the planet out of ice ages or into hot house conditions. Importantly, the recent warming has been extremely rapid: more than 100 times as fast as the cooling that took place over the previous 5,000 years. It’s the rapidity that is most troubling. Human society is built on a presumption of stability, and the rapidness of the change is creating instability.
Not surprisingly this warming has already led to impacts that are widespread and costly. The damage incurred in New York City during Super Storm Sandy was amplified by sea level rise that elevated and significantly extended the reach of the storm surge. Estimated costs for the additional damage were in the billions of dollars. 
Stephens also mischaracterizes both the certainties and uncertainties regarding climate change, and misrepresents how science reports uncertainties. Contrary to the writer’s false accusation that scientists claim total certainty regarding the rate of warming, IPCC reports present a range of estimates for global warming -- centering around 1 °C (1.8 °F) of warming since pre-industrial times.
Some things we know for sure, for example that the Earth is warming and that humans are the dominant cause. Yet even the latter is expressed with care; the best estimate of the human influence is 110%, with a range of about 80% to 130%. In other words, natural factors alone would have caused the Earth to cool slightly, but human influences counteracted that and led instead to substantial warming.
Importantly, the scientific treatment of uncertainty extends to climate projections, which give ranges of future warming under various emissions scenarios. However, Stephens suggests that risk management should only be guided by the possibility that warming and its impacts could be less than the best estimate, and not the possibility that it could be more. This cherry picking presents only one side of the range of uncertainties. But uncertainty cuts both ways, and reasonable risk management demands looking at both.
We respect the journalism at the Times and believe its reporters consistently do an excellent job of accurately covering climate change with depth and clarity. But that does not excuse disinformation appearing on the editorial page. Facts are still facts, no matter where in the paper they appear.
We call on the Times to publish a more comprehensive correction to the inaccuracies that appeared in Stephen’s column and to avoid such errors in the future by fact checking columns as carefully as they do news stories.
There is certainly a place for a variety of well-informed opinions when it comes to societal responses to climate change. But it must be made clear that there are facts that are not subject to opinion.
If you are a scientist, click here to add your name to the letter.
Concerned members of the public, click here to take action
John Abraham
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Robert Ficken
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Gregg Garfin
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Dr. Peter Gleick
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Joshua B. Halpern
Lawrence Hamilton
James Hansen
Joost van Haren
Zeke Hausfather
Katharine Hayhoe
M. Ward Hinds
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
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Greg Laden
Simon Lewis
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Neil Tangri
Kevin E. Trenberth
John C Tyndall
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Gernot Wagner
Gregory de Wet
Adam D. Wexler
Jacqueline Windh
George Woodwell

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Jerry Taylor, Director of Operations at the Niskanen Center in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2017.

by Sharon Lerner, The Intercept, April 28, 2017

THE HARDEST PART of reversing the warming of the planet may be convincing climate change skeptics of the need to do so. Although scientists who study the issue overwhelming agree that the earth is undergoing rapid and profound climate changes due to the burning of fossil fuels, a minority of the public remains stubbornly resistant to that fact. With temperatures rising and ice caps melting — and that small minority in control of both Congress and the White House — there seems no project more urgent than persuading climate deniers to reconsider their views. So we reached out to Jerry Taylor, whose job as president of the Niskanen Center involves turning climate skeptics into climate activists.
It might seem like an impossible transition, except that Taylor, who used to be staff director for the energy and environment task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and vice president of the Cato Institute, made it himself.
Sharon Lerner: What did you think when you first encountered the concept of climate change back in the 1990s?
Jerry Taylor: From 1991 through 2000, I was a pretty good warrior on that front. I was absolutely convinced of the case for skepticism with regard to climate science and of the excessive costs of doing much about it even if it were a problem. I used to write skeptic talking points for a living.
SL: What was your turning point?
JT: It started in the early 2000s. I was one of the climate skeptics who do battle on TV and I was doing a show with Joe Romm. On air, I said that, back in 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified in front of the Senate, he predicted we’d see a tremendous amount of warming. I argued it’d been more than a decade and we could now see by looking at the temperature record that he wasn’t accurate. After we got done with the program and were back in green room, getting the makeup taken off, Joe said to me, “Did you even read that testimony you’ve just talked about?” And when I told him it had been a while, he said “I’m daring you to go back and double check this.” He told me that some of Hansen’s projections were spot on. So I went back to my office and I re-read Hanson’s testimony. And Joe was correct. So I then I talked to the climate skeptics who had made this argument to me, and it turns out they had done so with full knowledge they were being misleading.
SL: So that was it? You changed your mind?
JT: It was more gradual. After that, I began to do more of that due diligence, and the more I did, the more I found that variations on this story kept arising again and again. Either the explanations for findings were dodgy, sketchy or misleading or the underlying science didn’t hold up. Eventually, I tried to get out of the science narratives that I had been trafficking in and just fell back on the economics. Because you can very well accept that climate change exists and still find arguments against climate action because the costs of doing something are so great.
SL: And the economic case eventually crumbled, too?
JT: The first blow in that argument was offered by my friend Jonathan Adler, who was at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Jon wrote a very interesting paper in which he argued that even if the skeptic narratives are correct, the old narratives I was telling wasn’t an argument against climate action. Just because the costs and the benefits are more or less going to be a wash, he said, that doesn’t mean that the losers in climate change are just going to have to suck it up so Exxon and Koch Industries can make a good chunk of money.
The final blow against my position, which caused me to crumble, was from a fellow named Bob Litterman, who had been the head of risk management at Goldman Sachs. Bob said, “The climate risks aren’t any different from financial risks I had to deal with at Goldman. We don’t know what’s going to happen in any given year in the market. There’s a distribution of possible outcomes. You have to consider the entire distribution of possible outcomes when you make decisions like this.” After he left my office, I said “there’s nothing but rubble here.”
Jerry Taylor, Director of Operations at theNiskanen Center in Washington, D.C. on April 28, 2017.
Jerry Taylor, Director of Operations at the Niskanen Center in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2017. Photo: Greg Kahn/GRAIN for The Intercept.
SL: How do you feel about the work you did in those years?
JT: I regret a lot of it. I wish I had taken more care and done more due diligence on the arguments I had been forwarding. I also introduced one of my brothers, James Taylor, to the folks at the Heartland Institute. Heartland’s rise to dominate market share in climate denialism largely occurred under my brother. Boy do I regret that.
SL: And he still is still a climate denier. So what is that like? Do you talk about climate change at Thanksgiving?
JT: We agree to disagree and don’t discuss it. And we don’t spend a lot of Thanksgivings together.
SL: Having been so central to Republican thought and leadership on energy, what can you say about what doesn’t work to convince conservative climate skeptics that climate change is real and important?
JT: If you talk about the need to transform civilization and to engage in the functional equivalent of World War III, you may as well just forget it. To most conservatives, that’s just nails on a chalkboard. Or if you say, you’re corrupted and a shill and ignorant. That’s no way to convince anybody of anything. What are the chances they’re going to say, Gee, you’re right? All that does is entrench someone in their own position.
SL: So what does work?
JT: In our business, talking to Republican and conservative elites, talking about the science in a dispassionate, reasonable, non-screedy, calm, careful way is powerful, because a lot of these people have no idea that a lot of the things they’re trafficking in are either the sheerest nonsense or utterly disingenuous.
I also make the conservative case for climate change. We don’t call people conservative when they put all their chips on one number of a roulette wheel. That’s not conservative. It’s pretty frigging crazy. It’s dangerous, risky. Conservatives think this way about foreign policy. We know that if North Korea has a nuclear weapon, they’re probably not going to use it. But we don’t act as if that’s a certainty. We hedge our bets. Climate change is like that. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. Given that fact, shouldn’t we hedge?
SL: I frequently hear about Republican lawmakers who don’t believe their own climate denials. Do you know many people who are in that camp?
JT: I have talked to many of them in confidence. There are between 40 and 50 in the House and maybe 10 to 12 in the Senate. They’re all looking for a way out of the denialist penitentiary they’ve been put into by the Tea Party. But they’re not sure what the Republican response ought to look like exactly and when the political window is going to open.
SL: When do you think these Republicans will come out about their concern about climate change?
JT: The wall of denial in the GOP looks awful frightening from afar but it is crumbling. And it can change quickly. People forget that it was only a decade ago that the party had a climate platform that could have been written by Sheldon Whitehouse. And during the last election cycle, Carlos CurbeloRyan Costello, and Rob Portman all ran as climate moderates and paid no political price.
SL: And then there’s the president, who claimed climate change is a Chinese hoax. What about changing his mind?
JT: Donald Trump clearly has lightly held views about climate, which means they can be easily moved. He has no ideology whatsoever, so the last person in the room who talks to him is the guy who wins the policy debate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pope Francis: Why the only future worth building includes everyone

Stefan Rahmstorf's letter to the editor of the New York Times cancelling his subscription due to their hiring Bret Stephens

To the Executive Editor
The New York Times
27 April 2017, via email

Dear Editor, 

I am a climate researcher, professor for physics of the oceans and have worked for eight years as advisor to the German government on global change issues. I regret to have to tell you that hereby I cancel my subscription to the New York Times in the wake of you hiring columnist Bret Stephens. Let me explain my reasons.

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that the problem at the Times goes much deeper than a single error of judgement. It concerns its attitude towards seeking the truth.

The Times argued that “millions agree with Stephens.” It made me wonder what’s next – when are you hiring a columnist claiming that the sun and the stars revolve around the Earth, because millions agree with that? My heroes are Copernicus, Galilei and Kepler, who sought the scientific truth based on observational evidence and defended it against the powerful authority of the church in Rome, at great personal cost. Had the New York Times existed then – would you have seen it as part of your mission to insult and denigrate these scientists, as Stephens has done with climate scientists?

The Times has denounced the critics of its decision as “left-leaning.” This is an insult to me and was the final straw to cancel my subscription. There is no left-leaning or right-leaning climate science, just as there is no republican or democrat theory of gravity. I have several good climate scientist friends who have been lifelong republicans. Their understanding of climate change does not differ from mine, because it is informed by the evidence.

Quite unlike Stephens’ views on climate change, which run counter to all evidence. He is simply repeating falsehoods spread by various “think tanks” funded by the fossil fuel industry.

In December 2015, Stephens called global warming “imperceptible” and the Paris climate summit a “meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage.” My colleagues and I have analysed 150,000 temperature time series from around the world, finding that monthly heat records occur five times more often now as a result of global warming than in an unchanging climate (Coumou et al., published in Climatic Change 2013). One of those record-hot months was August 2003 in western Europe. 70,000 people died due to this heat wave. Was global warming “imperceptible” to these people and the ones they left behind? On 15 August 2003, the New York Times reported: “So many bodies were delivered in recent weeks to the Paris morgue that refrigerated tents had to be erected outside the city to accommodate them all.” Was that just a “notional” problem?

Stephens doubts that global warming will continue, claiming that in hundred years “temperatures will be about the same.” That is a shockingly ignorant statement, ignoring over a century of climate science. Our emissions increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is higher now than in at least 3 million years. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as demonstrated first in the year 1859 by physicist John Tyndall. CO2 traps heat – more CO2 means a warmer climate. That is basic physics, borne out by the history of climate. Denying these well-established facts is about as smart as claiming the Earth is flat, and best left to cranks, ideologues and fossil fuel lobbyists.

Stephens has claimed that “in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling.” That’s an age-old climate denier myth. It would have cost Stephens just 60 seconds with Google to find out it is wrong. (Try and google “Did scientists predict an ice age in the 1970s.”) But Stephens is clearly not interested in evidence or seeking the truth about matters.

Last Friday, you sent me an email with the subject: “The truth is more important now than ever.” It made me cringe seeing this in my inbox. It said “thank you for supporting news without fear or favor.” The hypocrisy of that is unbearable, and I will support your newspaper no more. Instead, I will give the money to, a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. It is much better invested there.

Best regards,

Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf 
Head of Earth System Analysis, PIK

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ancient methane 'burp' points to climate change 110 million years ago

Frozen methane hydrates suddenly thawed 110 million years ago during a warming phase

by Jimmy Thomson, CBC News,April 24, 2017
Over 130 mounds like this one were discovered dotting the landscape of Ellef Ringnes Island, 500 kilometres north of Resolute, Nunavut. They point to an ancient release of methane.
Over 130 mounds like this one were discovered dotting the landscape of Ellef Ringnes Island, 500 kilometres north of Resolute, Nunavut. They point to an ancient release of methane. (submitted by Steve Grasby)
New research suggests a large amount of methane was released in the Arctic Ocean during a period of warming 110 million years ago and the methane "burp" points to the possibility of a similar release in today's warming conditions. 
The discovery happened in the remote High Arctic, on Ellef Ringnes Island, about 500 kilometres north of Resolute, Nunavut. During the Cretaceous period, 55 million years before the dinosaurs disappeared, the island was deep underwater.
Spaghetti rock
Fossils like these Cretaceous tubeworms show part of the deep-ocean community that fed off the methane leaking from the mud. (submitted by Steve Grasby )
Suddenly, from under the mud, bubbles of methane began to emerge as frozen deposits began to thaw.
The bubbles left traces in the form of over 130 mounds that persist on the island today, complete with fossils of life that formed around the methane seeps.
"There must have been some brief, rapid release into the ocean," explained Steve Grasby, one of the researchers who visited the island between 2009 and 2011. 
"Because we don't see them in the older rocks and we don't see them in the younger rocks. So something must have happened in the Earth's history at that time to release a bunch of methane into the sea," he said.  

Evidence of ancient climate change 

The thawing of the so-called methane hydrates coincides with a period of warming following a volcanic eruption, which released a cloud of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 
"That was when Earth transitioned from a cold climate to a warm climate," Grasby said.
"So we see this sudden and short term release of methane is coincident with this period of global climate warming." 
Today there are still deposits of methane hydrates buried under the sea. There have been concerns that their thawing could cause runaway climate change, since methane is a powerful, though short-lived, greenhouse gas that could further warm the climate, melting ever more hydrates. 
recent review by the United States Geological Survey says "most" of the methane never reaches the atmosphere. 
Grasby says his research points to a period in the Earth's geologic history when warming was releasing the gas from its frozen state, but, like today, it's hard to say what happens next.

Climate change doubles size of Canadian lakes in N.W.T. bison sanctuary, reducing habitat

Study looked at satellite imagery of Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary between 1986 and 2011

The Canadian PressFebruary 23, 2017
Bison are a common sight along N.W.T. Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchoko, near the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary.
Bison are a common sight along N.W.T. Highway 3 between Fort Providence and Behchoko, near the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary. (Sara Minogue/CBC)
New research suggests that climate change has mysteriously caused lakes near Fort Providence, N.W.T., to nearly double in size, forcing a herd of at-risk bison to stray from their preferred habitat.
Lakes in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary off the northwest shore of Great Slave Lake are now bigger than any time in at least the last 200 years, said Josh Thienpont, a University of Ottawa scientist and a lead author on the paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature.
"The whole landscape does appear to be getting wetter," he said.
Thienpont and his colleagues grew intrigued with the 10,000-square-kilometre sanctuary after people from Fort Providence, N.W.T., pointed out things were changing.
"Some of the local community had noticed that it was more difficult to travel on the landscape because it was wetter," Thienpont said.
Thienpont and his colleagues examined satellite imagery of the area between 1986 and 2011. They found the proportion of the land covered by water had almost doubled, from 5.7 per cent of the total area to as high as 11 per cent.
Some lakes didn't change much. But some had grown dramatically, including one that is now more than eight times larger.

Increase over time

That was enough for the team to suspect climate change.
"The change seems to be an increase over time," said Thienpont. "It's not just up and down.
"It seems that many of the things that are going on in this region in terms of water levels, precipitation, temperature, would favour the kind of lake increases that we're recording."
That suspicion was confirmed when they looked at soil and sediment analyses. The lakes are now bigger than any time during at least the last two centuries, meaning the expansion couldn't be the result of long-term natural cycles.
Still, it's a complex landscape and exactly how climate change acts to flood the lakes isn't yet well understood.
"That's something we're working on, to try and isolate that mechanism. There's a lot of potential drivers and there's probably not a single driver."
But the impact is clear on the sanctuary's 2,000 to 3,000 bison — Canada's last herd of genetically pure, tuberculosis-free wood bison, considered a species at risk. As the lakes grow, they drown out the sedge meadowlands around their banks that are the animals' favourite food.

Bison straying outside sanctuary

Aerial surveys done by the Northwest Territories show the animals are increasingly straying outside the sanctuary. They are an increasing hazard on Highway 3, which forms its western border.
"The flooding of this area may be resulting in the movement of the bison out of that preferred habitat," Thienpont said. "There is the potential to find bison not too far from Yellowknife now, which was not the case before."
What's happening in the sanctuary is unusual. Many northern areas are responding the climate change by getting drier, with lakes draining away as permafrost melts beneath them.
The sanctuary is a reminder that climate change impacts vary, said Thienpont.
"It shows that the same stressor can have varying impacts in different landscapes. It shows the responses of ecosystems are complex and the consequences of climate warming can impact every component of an ecosystem — not just the terrestrial, but also the animals living in an area."

'It scares me': Permafrost thaw in Canadian Arctic sign of global trend

Buildings in Inuvik being demolished because of shaky foundations

by David Michael Lamb, CBC News,April 17, 2017

Jim McDonald, the mayor of Inuvik, stands in front of a warehouse that’s slated for demolition due to melting permafrost, which has shifted the building's foundation.
Jim McDonald, the mayor of Inuvik, stands in front of a warehouse that’s slated for demolition due to melting permafrost, which has shifted the building's foundation. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)
Canada is melting.
Like a popsicle taken out of the freezer and left on the counter, the permanently frozen ground in the northern reaches of this country is thawing at an ever faster rate.
Half of Canada is blanketed in some form of permafrost, including patches in the northern reaches of Ontario and the Prairie provinces.
But in many places, including around Inuvik, NWT, as much as 90 per cent of this "ground" is actually frozen water. (The rest is dirt, rocks and decomposed organic material that was once trees, shrubs, even animals.)
For years now, buildings in Inuvik have been gradually sinking into the ground as it softens. Others are so unstable, they are literally sliding off their foundations.
Unstable building
This building is now set to be torn down. Some of the stilts that support it have sunk and others have heaved up, leaving the building dangerously unstable. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)
"You can really see the effect of the permafrost," said Inuvik mayor Jim McDonald, standing in front of two warehouses built in the 1980s that are now unsafe to enter and are slated for demolition.
"The seasonal thaw is getting deeper now, and that wreaks havoc."
This is where a local problem becomes a global concern.
Scientists in the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Siberia are now realizing that as the ground under them melts, it will not only make life harder for the people living in the Arctic, but will in fact speed up climate change around the globe.

Temperature swings

The World Meteorological Organisation says the globe is now in uncharted territory, with temperatures in 2016 the hottest ever recorded.
Effects of climate change can be difficult to spot for most Canadians, but not in Inuvik.
Mackenzie Delta landscape
The landscape of the Mackenzie Delta is a maze of small lakes and rivers. This waterlogged environment has always been one of constant change, but the melting permafrost is now transforming it in ways no one has ever seen. (David Michael Lamb/CBC)
Jim McDonald has lived here his whole life — his father helped build the town when it was created from scratch in the 1950s.
He said that in the Mackenzie River Delta, the cold used to set in by October and stay that way into May. Temperatures would regularly dip to -40 and remain there for weeks at a time.
But McDonald said that in recent years, winters are much warmer and much shorter. It's also more unpredictable. Wild temperature swings are common.
The thaw is destroying buildings, forcing construction crews to change their methods. Buildings used to be hoisted on stilts sunk five or six metres into the ground. Nowadays, said McDonald, "they're finding that they have to go down in the 15- or 20-metre range to get a stable enough foundation."
In melting the permafrost, the changing climate is not only unsettling buildings but making transportation in the region more difficult.
For decades, the community of Tuktoyaktuk, on the shore of the Arctic Ocean, has relied on an ice road from Inuvik in winter. But because of warmer temperatures, the road's season is shorter and faces periodic closures as the ice shifts and becomes unstable.
This spring it will close for good, to be replaced by a permanent gravel road that will be known as the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

'It scares me'

Above the Arctic Circle, the permafrost hasn't melted since at least the last Ice Age, more than 10,000 years ago. 
Kumari Karunaratne
Kumari Karunaratne, a permafrost expert who works with the NWT Geological Survey, says the effects of climate change in the north are 'scary.” (David Michael Lamb/CBC)
No one knows exactly what it will unleash when it melts. But no one thinks it will be good.
At the very least, it's changing the landscape. The Mackenzie Delta is a maze of small lakes and broad hillsides. People who live in Inuvik say they don't have to travel far from town in the summer to see craters that formed when the surface layer of land simply collapsed. 
They also see entire hillsides that have slid away, and have found entire lakes that have drained — as well as others that have been newly formed.
When permafrost thaws, all the organic material previously trapped in it releases methane into the atmosphere.
Permafrost slump
When permafrost melts, it can cause the land to collapse in dramatic fashion. In this scene from last summer, a drone captured the effects, which included the partial draining of a lake. (NWT Geological Survey)
"It scares me," said Kumari Karunaratne, a permafrost expert who works for the Northwest Territories Geological Survey. "This methane that's being released is being released over huge areas across the north. And it's continually seeping out."
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So, as climate change speeds up the permafrost melt, the permafrost melt will exacerbate climate change.
By exactly how much, it's impossible to say. Karunaratne won't even try to guess, because measuring it is difficult and imprecise. The area where it's happening is vast and much of it remains uninhabited and unexplored.
But there are dramatic examples that show just how much methane is bubbling up from underground. Some lakes in the Arctic are so full of it, if you punch a hole in the ice you can light the escaping gas on fire.
YouTube has videos of researchers and others doing it in Alaska and Siberia. But the same thing is happening in the Northwest Territories.

Unleashing other problems

There are other problems, too.
Last summer in Siberia, the unusually intense summer heat melted the permafrost, exposing a reindeer carcass that had been embedded in it. 
That carcass was infected with anthrax, a deadly bacteria that had been locked in the ice. A 12-year-old boy died after being infected and at least eight others were sickened.
It opens up the possibility that other dangers could be unleashed.
Siberian researchers say a gravesite in one town contains bodies of people who died of smallpox in the 1890s. They were buried in the soil just above the permafrost, which is now melting. That's raising fears that smallpox, which was eradicated globally in 1977, could make a comeback.
A woman stands with reindeer in the Yamal-Nenets region of Siberia, Russia, where a 12-year-old boy died and 20 people were infected in 2016 after an anthrax outbreak. An unusually intense summer had melted the permafrost, exposing a reindeer carcass containing anthrax. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)
Sergey Netesov, chief of the virology laboratory at Novosibirsk State University, told the Siberian Times newspaper that there are thousands of graves in the region — some human, some cattle. 
The recent anthrax outbreak, he said, is "reason enough to finance research into the diagnostics and prevention of exceptionally dangerous infections."
Whether that happens or not, people in the Northwest Territories know they have no power to stop climate change. 
Global temperatures are already at record levels and the polar regions are feeling the effects more dramatically than anywhere else.
"There are really remarkable changes that are happening in a short amount of time," said Karunaratne.
And there's likely more to come.