Wht the Arctic Is Smouldering

We know the Arctic is melting – but it’s also on fire. And these wildfires could transform the pace, and scope, of global warming in ways that could affect us all.

Image result for arctic smuldering

The Arctic is transforming before our eyes: the ice caps are melting, the tree-line is shifting northwardsstarving polar bears wander into citiesThe region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change, largely due to changes in albedo – the loss of sunlight-reflecting ice and snow, replaced by sunlight-absorbing ocean and soil. This is driving a dangerous positive feedback cycle where heating spirals into more heating.

And, now, the Arctic isn’t only losing its ice. It is being set ablaze.

Gargantuan forest fires in Siberia, which burned for more than three months, created a cloud of soot and ash as large as the countries that make up the entire European Union. More than four million hectares of Siberian taiga forest went up in flames, the Russian military were deployed, people across the region were choked by the smoke, and the cloud spread to Alaska and beyond. Fires have also raged in the boreal forests of Greenland, Alaska and Canada.

These are all the things we have been predicting for decades – Philip Higuera

Though images of blazing infernos in the Arctic Circle might be shocking to many, they come as little surprise to Philip Higuera, a fire ecologist at the University of Montana, in the US, who has been studying blazes in the Arctic for more than 20 years.

“I’m not surprised – these are all the things we have been predicting for decades,” he says.

Higuera and his team predicted in 2016, based on sophisticated computer modeling, that fires in the boreal forests and Arctic tundra would increase by up to four times by 2100.

A key tipping point, he says, is an average July temperature of 13.4C over a 30-year period. Much of the Alaskan tundra has been perilously close to this threshold between 1971 and 2000, making it particularly sensitive to a warming climate. The number of areas near to and exceeding this tipping point are likely to increase as the climate continues to warm in the coming decades, says Higuera.

“Across the circumpolar Arctic, the take-home message is that there are distinct thresholds above which you start to see the tundra burning – it’s like a binary switch,” says Higuera. “This threshold relationship is part of what makes the Arctic so sensitive: areas will stay below this threshold for years, off our radar for fire activity – and then all of a sudden with a change in temperature it will start to burn.” MORE

 

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Mark Your Calendars: 2035 Will Be Renewable Energy Tipping Point

renewable energy in Germany
Encavis hybrid solar and wind energy installation in Germany

Global  consulting firm Wood Mackenzie has released a new report with the snappy title “Thinking global energy transitions: The what, if, how and when.” It claims 2035 will be the year when the world’s transition to renewable energy reaches critical mass. That year will be the “point of singularity,” the time when the world moves away from oil and gas to enter the age of renewables.

In an interview with PV Magazine, Christian Breyer, professor of solar economy at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, puts the need for urgency in stark terms.

“We already have no other appropriate options than this 100% renewables pathway. This is not science fiction but a real world scenario that must be taken into serious consideration, unless we don’t want to commit a collective suicide. But this is not only a matter of survival, it is also the cheapest way to shape our energy future, as solar and renewables have the potential to reduce the LCOE of global power supply from €70/MWh in 2015 to between 50 and €55/MWh by 2050.

“The easiest part of this trajectory will be the switch to renewables of the power sector, while the hard job will have to be done for the transport, industry and chemical sectors. In the transport sector, marine and aviation will also have to go through electrification, as economically they only work with low-cost electricity, and this will come mainly from renewables in the future, particularly from solar.”

Professor Breyer concludes his interview with this thought. “A world energy system based exclusively on renewable energies and an almost fully electrified world are our only chances to avoid further disasters. This is absolutely doable, and at lower costs than today.”  MORE

‘We Are Watching the Ice Sheet Hit a Tipping Point’: Greenland Melting Even Faster Than Feared

“The only thing we can do is adapt and mitigate further global warming—it’s too late for there to be no effect.”

fjord is seen from the air in southwest Greenland
A fjord is seen from the air in southwest Greenland, where new research shows ice is melting even more rapidly that scientists previously feared. (Photo: NASA/Maria-Jose Viñas)

While climate scientists have repeatedly raised alarm about the how human-caused global warming is driving “off the charts” ice loss in Greenland that will contribute to devastating sea level rise, a new analysis of a less studied region has ramped up those concerns, revealing that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting even faster than previously thought.

“We are watching the ice sheet hit a tipping point,” warned lead author Michael Bevis, a geodynamics professor at Ohio State University. “We’re going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future.”

Researchers often look at ice loss from large glaciers in Greenland’s southeast and northwest regions. However, this study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that the most sustained ice loss during the decade following 2003 was in the island’s southwest region.

“Whatever this was, it couldn’t be explained by glaciers, because there aren’t many there,” noted Bevis. “It had to be the surface mass—the ice was melting inland from the coastline.” MORE