Doomsday by 2021?
The Doomsday Clock, by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, constitutes a potent symbol of the danger we’re in. When taking the ‘minutes to midnight’ from statements 1991 to 2018, an added trend points at Midnight by 2021. Will it be Doomsday by 2021?
The 2018 Statement said that “world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change. [ . . ] Global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet shown the beginnings of the sustained decline towards zero that must occur if ever greater warming is to be avoided.”
Recently, Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, said: “We expect energy-related CO2 emissions will increase once again in 2018 after growing in 2017.”
Next to carbon dioxide, the outlook for other greenhouse gases is also very worrying and the situation could deteriorate very rapidly, as further described below.
The image on the right shows sea surface temperature anomalies as high as as 7.1°C (or 12.7°F) in the Bering Strait (at the green circle) on October 15, 2018.
Warmer oceans result in stronger cyclones. The next image on the right shows that Typhoon Yutu was forecast to reach an Instantaneous Wind Power Density (WPD) as high as 207647 W/m² at 850 mb and wind speeds as high as 268 km/h or 167 mph at the green circle, i.e. at 18.50° N, 124.00° E, on October 30, 2018, 00:00 UTC.
Cyclones can suddenly push huge amounts of salty warm water into the Arctic Ocean.
On November 12, 2018, there was a sudden influx of warm water from the Atlantic Ocean near Svalbard and sea surface temperature was as high as 20.4°C or 68.7°F, i.e. 17.4°C or 31.4°F warmer than in 1981-2011.
|[ warm water from the Atlantic Ocean is
increasingly invading the Arctic Ocean ]
As the image on the right also illustrates, warm salty water from the Atlantic Ocean is increasingly invading the Arctic Ocean.
Salinity levels at the surface of the Arctic Ocean are low, due to the increasingly large run-off from rivers, glaciers, etc. Also, the Arctic Ocean is increasingly receiving precipitation from the Atlantic Ocean, due to stronger winds over the North Atlantic.
All this contributes to the formation of a freshwater lid on top of the surface of the Arctic Ocean, which has in turn helped to keep sea ice extent larger than it would otherwise have been over the past few years.
The influx of water from the Atlantic Ocean has a much higher salinity level. Ice will stay frozen and will not melt in freshwater until the temperature reaches 0°C (or 32°F). Ice in saltwater on the other hand will already have melted away at -2°C (or 28.4°F).
The danger is that a strong influx of salty warm water will reach the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean and trigger destabilization of hydrates in sediments resulting in massive eruptions of methane from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, as described in earlier posts such as this one.
This methane could cause temperatures to suddenly rise strongly at the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, speeding up decline of sea ice and permafrost, and further deforming the jet stream.
This could trigger even more extreme weather events, in particular storms, flooding, heatwaves and fires, across the Northern Hemisphere that could devastate crops, take down power grids and threaten meltdowns of nuclear power plants.
Aerosols associated with fires could further push up temperatures, as described in more detail below.
Burning of agricultural waste can cause a lot of air pollution. The image on the right shows that on November 7, 2018 (at the green circle), levels of coarse particulate matter (PM10) as high as 1,913 μg/m³ were reached.
Even higher levels can be reached due to forest fires. As the image on the right shows, PM10 levels as high as 6,289 µg/m³ were reached on November 10, 2018, levels as high as 9,116 µg/m³ were reached on November 11, 2018, and levels as high as 9,856 µg/m³ are forecast for November 14, 2018, due to fires in California.
Above image shows that levels as high as 75,994 μg/m³ were reached in Siberia in 2017.
Such fires can add huge amounts of black carbon to the atmosphere.
For comparison, the EPA has set a National Ambient Air Quality Standard PM10 maximum of 150 μg/m³.
The decreasing temperature difference between the North Pole and the Equator would make the jet stream even more wavy, accelerating winds that increase fire risks, while also increasing droughts that further increase fire risks.
High greenhouse gas levels further aggravate the situation. Carbon monoxide (CO) levels as high as 52,440 ppb and carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels as high as 809 ppm were reached on November 10, 2018, while CO levels as high as 78,116 ppb were forecast for November 14, 2018, due to fires in California.
The image below shows the smoke from fires in California on November 9, 2018.
Black carbon causes both cooling and warming. Black carbon shades the surface, somewhat cooling the surface of land and water, while it also absorbs heat, thus warming the air above the surface. Furthermore, black carbon causes warming by darkening the surface once it settles down. Studies have calculated that black carbon has a total net global warming effect of more than 1.1 W/m².
Above video Rings of Fire features former firefighter Tom Swetnam.
The image below illustrates to what extent smoke from fires boosted black carbon in the air over North America on August 23, 2018.
Furthermore, without access to fossil fuel and with the electricity grid down, many people could turn to kerosene lamps for lighting and burning wood for heating and cooking, resulting in even more black carbon emissions that have a huge immediate warming impact. James Hansen (2007) found the GWP for soot (BC) to be approximately 2000 for 20 years, approximately 500 for 100 years and approximately 200 for 500 years.
Next to black carbon, there is another type of aerosols that is important, i.e. sulfur. Above video contains the Horizon documentary ‘Global Dimming’, broadcast January 2005 by the BBC.
Above image shows sulfur dioxide levels as high as 3597.10 µg/m³ in East Asia on October 24, 2018, indicating that sulfur levels may still be rising.
The image on the right shows IPCC (2000) projections for sulfur dioxide emissions.
The aerosol masking effect associated with sulfur would be strongly reduced as industrial activity would come to a standstill, thus further driving up warming.
The events as described above could result in a combined additional warming due to changes in aerosols of up to 2.5°C (4.5°F) in a matter of years.
In conclusion, the prospect of such a sequence of events makes a Doomsday-by-2021 warning appropriate. The accumulated impact of the various warming elements is illustrated by the image on the right.
A recent study found upper tolerance limits in plants of 23.7°C, which is less than where Earth would end up with a 10°C rise from current temperatures. However, these are tolerance levels, rather than extinction levels. The study concludes that “loss of one species can make more species disappear (a process known as ‘co-extinction’), and possibly bring entire systems to an unexpected, sudden regime shift, or even total collapse.” The study therefore puts global diversity collapse at around 5°C of heating.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described at the Climate Plan.
• The Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
• What Does Runaway Warming Look Like?
• Tweet by Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, October 8, 2018
• Climate change and trace gases, by James Hansen et al. (2007)
• IPCC Special Report, Emissions Scenarios (2000)
• EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards
• Toxic smog cloaks New Delhi morning after Diwali festivities (November 8, 2018)
• Extreme weather is upon us
• Will August 2018 be the hottest month on record?
• Climate Plan
• Can we weather the Danger Zone?
• How much warmer is it now?
• Disappearance of Arctic Sea Ice