This massive glacier is hovering over the tiny village of Innaarsuit in northwest Greenland.
Residents have been evacuated from the danger zone.
If it calves, the glacier could prompt a massive tsunami, swamping the town.
They’re used to seeing icebergs floating around in Greenland, but nothing quite this big.
A massive iceberg came just shy of one football field’s distance (100 meters) away from the shore there on Thursday, and some residents had to be evacuated to hillier spots.
Keld Quistgaard from the Danish Meteorological Institute told the Danish Broadcasting Corporation that the ‘berg weighs anywhere between eight and 10 million tons, and rises nearly 300 feet in the air above the water.
“We are used to big icebergs, but we haven’t seen such a big one before,” Susanna Eliassen, a member of the village council in Innaarsuit, told the Greenlandic Broadcasting Corporation (KNR).
Just 169 people live in Innaarsuit, according to The New York Times. At least 33 people have been evacuated so far, KNR reported.
On Saturday, the giant ice flow had moved out from the shore, and was sitting about 0.3 miles (500 meters) away from the village, but KNR was still calling it a “special situation,” and images showed the town is not out of the danger zone yet.
Last year, at least four people were killed in Greenland when a huge wave washed ashore in June. F our houses were also flushed out to sea after a tsunami was prompted by a landslide.
Watch what happens as just a sliver breaks off from the giant iceberg hovering over the town, causing a giant wave to head towards the shore, and gently rocking the entire mass of ice:
Of course, Greenland isn’t the only place feeling the heat recently.
This summer, temperatures have sweltered across the US, with cities suffering through stifling heat waves from New York to LA. The Times reports that our steamy nights are warming nearly twice as fast as days, and it’s becoming a deadly problem across North America.
By Crisco 1492 [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons
Hundreds of baby ring-billed gulls tumbled from rooftops, facing certain death, just as summer arrived. An intense heatwave arrived too, with projections by meteorologists that 2018 would be the hottest year on record. A new study came out reporting that bad news for anther gull species, the Heermann’s gull. Finally, a friend of mine, a bear biologist, had his paper outlining declines in the southernmost population of polar bears published.The same week all of this was happening, I was still hearing how the American president remained in denial about global climate change. We call it that because the deniers can’t get their heads around the idea that global “warming” does not mean that there are no cold days or record-breaking cold spells. I suspect the only polar bear Donald Trump may have seen would be in a zoo or maybe in his son’s trophy room, and yet he says they’ve never been in better shape. Of course, he lies – continually, I know – but why do people believe him?
As reported here on February 15, ring-billed gulls are in decline in Ontario. They often nest on flat rooftops, but don’t jump off! The gulls were from one to four weeks old. Toronto Wildlife Center sent out a distress call for help as they were overwhelmed with baby gulls. The wildlife rehab community responded, but why was it happening in the first place? The roofs were so hot that the birds were being burned alive.
Burning baby gulls are a symptom of a world in trouble.
Heermann’s gulls are beautiful gray gulls with white heads that are found along the California and Mexican coastlines. Researchers analyzed their population growth using models employing “normal” and high oceanic sea surface temperature (SST) conditions. Normally, there was about a 4% population growth rate, but with increasingly warm SST events, the predicted population growth goes down to a negative 15%. The gulls do fine even though there are high SSTs every four or five years – the historic figure – but now that warm SSTs are dramatically increasing, more gulls will die than are hatched, which is a route to endangerment.
That’s a tad esoteric, but then there is that study of the world’s most southerly polar bears, intensely surveyed over many years. It found that the number of bears in James Bay and the southern end of Hudson Bay has declined 17% – from 943 to 780 – in the past five years. That’s a trend, and it supports all of the other news emerging, especially here in Canada, for the simple reason the higher the degree of latitude the more pronounced the effects from climate change.
My point is that this happened only in the first week of summer. How long can the deniers remain in denial? I hope it’s not until their own feet burn and, like those baby gulls, they have nowhere to go, because unlike those gulls, rescue will not happen.
Many of the threats we know are associated with climate change are slow moving. Gradually rising seas, a steady uptick in extreme weather events, and more all mean that change will come gradually to much of the globe. But we also recognize that there can be tipping points, where certain aspects of our climate system shift suddenly to new behaviors.
The challenge with tipping points is that they’re often easiest to identify in retrospect. We have some indications that our climate has experienced them in the past, but reconstructing how quickly a system tipped over or the forces that drove the change can be difficult. Now, a team of Norwegian scientists is suggesting it has watched the climate reach a tipping point: the loss of Arctic sea ice has flipped the Barents Sea from acting as a buffer between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to something closer to an arm of the Atlantic.
Decades of data
The Norwegian work doesn’t rely on any new breakthrough in technology. Instead, it’s built on the longterm collection of data. The Barents Sea has been monitored for things like temperature, ice cover, and salinity, in some cases extending back over 50 years. This provides a good baseline to pick up longterm changes. And, in the case of the Barents Sea in particular, it’s meant we’ve happened to have been watching as a major change took place.
The Barents Sea lies north of Norway and Russia, bounded by Arctic islands like Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. To its west is the North Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean is to its north. And data from prior to the year 2000 indicates that the Barents acted as a buffer between the two oceans.
To the north, the Arctic Ocean has been dominated by sea ice, which spreads into the Barents during the winter. The ice acts as a barrier to exchanging heat with the atmosphere and blocks sunlight from reaching the ocean water, helping keep the Arctic colder in the summer. As it melts, the Barents also creates a layer of fresh water that doesn’t mix well with the salt water below it, and it is light enough to remain at the surface. The water of the Atlantic is warmer but saltier and better mixed across its depths.
In between, in the Barents, the two influences create a layer of intermediate water. The Arctic surface water and sea ice helps keep the Barents fresher and cool. And while the Barents is warmed from below by the dense, salty Atlantic water, it’s not enough to allow the two layers to mix thoroughly. This helps keep the Barents Sea’s surface water cold and fresh, encouraging it to freeze over during the winter.
The researchers behind the new work say that this layered structure was “remarkably stable” from 1970 all the way through 2011. But change started coming to the area even as the layers persisted. The atmosphere over the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region on the planet. In part because of that, the amount of ice covering the Arctic Ocean began to decline dramatically. It reached what were then record lows in 2007 and 2008. As a result, the Barents Sea was relatively ice-free in the Arctic summer, decreasing the fresh water present in the surface layer.
Sea-ice drift into the Barents sea dropped enough so that the 2010-2015 average was 40 percent lower than the 1979-2009 mean. The researchers checked precipitation at some islands on the edge of the Barents Sea, and they confirmed that the loss of fresh water at the surface was due to the loss of ice rather than a change in weather patterns.
(For context, the Barents Sea is essentially ice-free at the moment, even though the melt season typically extends through September.)
The loss of ice also means that the surface water in this area is exchanging heat with the atmosphere and absorbing more sunlight during the long Arctic summer days. These two have combined to heat the top 100m of water dramatically. If the mean of its temperature from 1970-1999 is taken as a baseline, the temperatures from 2010-2016 are nearly four standard deviations higher. 2016—the most recent year we have validated data for—was 6.3 standard deviations higher.
This has the effect of heating the intermediate water from above. Meanwhile, the warm Atlantic water will heat it from below. As a result, the cold intermediate water has essentially vanished from the Barents Sea, turning the area into a basin dominated by Atlantic water. The entire water column, from surface to the sea floor, has both warmed and gotten saltier, all starting in the late-2000s.
While dramatic, that in and of itself doesn’t make for a tipping point. But the authors argue that the present conditions make it extremely difficult for the sea ice to re-establish itself during the winter: “Increased Atlantic Water inflow has recently enlarged the area where sea ice cannot form, causing reductions in the sea-ice extent.” The water both starts out warmer and has increased salt content, making freezing more difficult.
In essence, the authors argue that the entire Barents Sea has started to behave as an arm of the Atlantic. Unless some external factor re-establishes the layer of fresh water on the surface, “the entire region could soon have a warm and well-mixed water-column structure and be part of the Atlantic domain.”
Tip of the ice
From a strictly human-centric position, the changes aren’t necessarily a terrible thing. In terms of ecosystems, the authors describe the Barents as “divided into two regions with distinct climate regimes—the north having a cold and harsh Arctic climate and ice-associated ecosystem, while the south has a favorable Atlantic climate with a rich ecosystem and lucrative fisheries.” The expansion of these fisheries, while coming at the cost of the native ecosystem, could prove a boon for the countries bordering the region.
But the general gist of the study is considerably more ominous: not only have we discovered a climate tipping point, but we’ve spotted it after the system has probably already flipped into a new regime. It also provides some sense of what to expect from the future. Rather than seeing the entire planet experience a few dramatic changes, we’re likely to see lots of regional tipping points that have more of a local effect. The future will be the sum of these events and their interactions, making it a bit harder to predict which changes we should be planning for.
SEABIRDS have once again been found washed up on beaches in Western Alaska.
Beginning in May, birds have been reported dead or behaving strangely in communities throughout the Bering Strait region, from Shishmaref to Unalakleet and on St. Lawrence Island.
Large-scale die-offs of seabirds and other marine animals have been occurring around the state for several years, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wants to know why. That takes the help of boots-on-the-ground partners across Alaska.
Gay Sheffield is one of those partners. She’s a marine biologist with Alaska Sea Grant in Nome, and she has helped coordinate the collection of dead birds. She says only one bird has been tested so far this year: a murre, collected in Unalakleet in May.
“The murre was tested for harmful algal blooms, tested for avian cholera, was tested for bird flu, and a full necropsy—or a little bird autopsy—was done, and the result was that the bird had starved to death.”
But, she says, knowing that a bird ultimately didn’t get enough food doesn’t answer the larger question of why it died.
Robb Kaler is a wildlife biologist at USFWS’s Migratory Bird Management office in Anchorage. He’s been monitoring the seabird die-offs statewide.
“They’re dying of starvation, but there might be other contributing factors.”
Kaler says factors contributing to bird deaths could include neurotoxin poisoning from algal blooms, increased storminess, or shifts in the type of fish available to birds to eat. And, he says, many of the factors could be connected to warming sea surface temperatures off the coast of Alaska.
Both Sheffield and Kaler underscored the importance of collecting more freshly dead birds. More samples mean more testing — and more information that can be returned to communities where healthy seabirds mean food security.
“We need to provide them with answers on whether these birds are safe to consume or not, whether their eggs are safe to consume.”
Several birds were recently collected from Shishmaref and Gambell. Test results are forthcoming.
To report a seabird or other marine animal found dead or behaving strangely, contact Gay Sheffield at 434-1149 or Brandon Ahmasuk at Kawerak at 443-4265. You can also call U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dead Seabird Hotline at (866) 527-3358.
Image at top: A dead murre that washed ashore in Nome in June 2018. Photo: Zoe Grueskin, KNOM.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with President Trump. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump headed for the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Canada on Friday but will be leaving before Saturday’s meeting on climate change, clean energy and oceans. The White House said an aide will take Trump’s place, CNN reported.
The announcement of his early departure comes amid a brewing war on tariffs. French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a joint press conference on Thursday they intended to challenge Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports at the G7 summit, according to the Associated Press.
Trump will depart for Singapore on Saturday for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“I am heading for Canada and the G-7 for talks that will mostly center on the long time unfair trade practiced against the United States,” the president tweeted today. “From there I go to Singapore and talks with North Korea on Denuclearization. Won’t be talking about the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax for a while!”
Frankly, it’s not surprising that Trump wants to skip the climate meeting with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK. The president doesn’t believe in climate science, he wants to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling along the nation’s coasts, and his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement has created a significant rift between the U.S. and its G7 allies.
In fact, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt also ducked out of a G7 meeting of environment ministers in Italy last June.
Just look at how incongruous the aims of the G7 meeting are compared to Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda:
How can the G7 accelerate the transition to low carbon, climate resilient economies? What issues, areas, or initiatives should the G7 prioritize?
How can the G7 create a cleaner environment for future generations, while also creating jobs and growth that benefits everyone?
What are the most important issues facing our oceans and coastal communities today? How should the G7 work together to address these issues, including as it relates to expanding conservation, eliminating pollution, and promoting the sustainable use of maritime resources?
How can the G7 advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through its actions related to climate change, oceans and clean growth?
As Earther noted, “One can hope Trump’s absence will reduce distractions.” Perhaps, as the website suggested, the meeting can instead focus on the Trudeau government’s recent $4.5 billion purchase of the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.
Better yet, the G7 leaders can talk about a new report from Britain’s Overseas Development Institute. The report revealed that their governments continue to subsidize at least $100 billion a year in subsidies for the production and use of coal, oil and gas, despite repeated pledges to phase out fossil fuels by 2025.
Pope Francis on Saturday issued a dire warning to top oil executives, saying that climate change could “destroy civilization.”
At a two-day conference at the Vatican, the pope called climate change a challenge of “epochal proportions,” according to Reuters.
He also said that the world must move toward using clean energy and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
“Civilization requires energy but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Francis said.
The conference, organized by the University of Notre Dame in the United States, brought together executives from asset manager BlackRock, BP and Norwegian oil and energy company Equinor, among others.
The event was prompted by Francis’s 2015 papal encyclical blaming humans for climate change and criticizing world leaders for not acting swiftly enough to address it.
The conference comes a little less than a year after President Trumppulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Trump has referred to global warming as a “hoax” and drawn criticism from the scientific community for stacking his administration with officials who deny the human role in climate change. During a meeting with Trump, the pope gave him a copy of the encyclical.
The pope told the group Saturday that global issues like poverty are “interconnected” to concerns about global warming and access to electricity.
“We know that the challenges facing us are interconnected,” he said, according to Reuters. “If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger … the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.”
“But that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels,” he added. “Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”
It would have been unthinkable not many years ago to imagine the impending death of the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest living structure and a world heritage site unsurpassed for its tremendous beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has been one of the planet’s most important ecosystems. Now, after consecutive years of prolonged, extreme marine heat waves in 2016 and 2017, one-half of the reef is dead.
Yet the reef, which has gone through immense challenges over millions of years of changing climates, is not entirely gone yet. Leading coral reef scientist Terry Hughes recently told the Guardian that, “The Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not doomed if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions. Our study shows that coral reefs are already shifting radically in response to unprecedented heatwaves.”
Further work from other research teams documented in April that globally, marine heat waves have increased in frequency and are of longer duration. Scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies published a study finding that between 1925 and 2016, marine heat waves occurred 34 percent more often, and lasted 17 percent longer. The result has been a 54 percent increase in the number of marine heat wave days happening each year globally.
The study brought together a range of ocean temperature data over the time period studied. Controlling for climate variability, the authors were able to determine that the increase in marine heat waves was related to an increase in sea surface temperature. “With more than 90 percent of the heat from human-caused global warming going into our oceans, it is likely marine heat waves will continue to increase,” said study co-author Neil Holbrook from the University of Tasmania.
The paper cites the impact of recent marine heat waves in a number of the world’s oceans, concluding that, “These events resulted in substantial ecological and economic impacts, including sustained loss of kelp forests, coral bleaching, reduced surface chlorophyll levels due to increased surface layer stratification, mass mortality of marine invertebrates due to heat stress, rapid long-distance species’ range shifts and associated reshaping of community structure, fishery closures or quota changes, and even intensified economic tensions between nations.”
The news of increasing ocean heat waves and their devastating impact is truly alarming, especially in connection with the many other signs of accelerating climate change and general ecological crisis, including in just the past several months.
Arctic, Antarctic Melt and the Ocean Conveyor Belt
After another abnormally warm year in large parts of the Arctic region, including mid-winter temperatures that went above freezing at the North pole, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported April 2018 essentially tied for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record with April 2016. More worrying, not only was the sea ice coverage at a historic April low, but the amount of thicker, multi-year ice cover “has declined from 61 percent in 1984 to 34 percent in 2018. In addition, only 2 percent of the ice age cover is categorized as five-plus years, the least amount recorded during the winter period,” according to the Center.
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With the Arctic warming at twice the global average, less ice is forming and more is melting in summer so less of the ice lasts through the warmer months to become multi-year ice. New ice forms in fall and winter, but this ice is now increasingly new, younger ice, instead of building on the thicker and more stable multi-year ice. As ice melts and ice coverage is increasingly younger, less thick and less stable, sea ice is being lost, and the Arctic Ocean is becoming more open in summer. The increasingly ice-free open ocean absorbs the sun’s energy much more readily than the ice-covered ocean, accelerating warming. This dangerous positive feedback loop underway in the Arctic is already impacting climate worldwide.
For the Arctic itself, the disappearing ice threatens to devastate the species and ecosystems that have evolved in connection with it. The decline of Arctic ice and ecosystems, forced by greenhouse gas emissions from the predominant capitalist economies of the planet, also threatens genocide for the culture and way of life of Indigenous peoples throughout the region who have lived for millennia in an ice-covered world.
Another recently published study has shown that melting glaciers in East and West Antarctica are freshening the surrounding ocean and slowing the formation of ocean “bottom water.” Normally, Antarctic bottom water is formed by the sinking of cold, salty water that results as sea ice forms and pushes out salt into surrounding waters. This cold, dense water sinks, mixes with and cools warmer salty water brought by deep ocean currents to Antarctica. But this process is now slowing because of increased glacial freshwater melt. The warm water is stratified, trapped at the bottom, where it is further speeding the melt of Antarctic glaciers from below in these regions. It’s another feedback loop that will likely accelerate sea level rise.
In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, as well as in the Arctic regions off Norway and Greenland, the process of very dense, cold, salty water sinking is a major factor in causing overturning circulation in the world’s oceans. This is called thermohaline circulation, the process whereby deep-ocean currents are generated by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). This is also known as the “ocean conveyor belt.” Ocean currents are very complex and dynamic processes with many factors involved. Essentially though, the ocean conveyor belt drives deep ocean currents that course powerfully around the globe, overturning and mixing enormous quantities of water. In certain regions, this creates upwelling — bringing nutrient-rich water from the ocean’s bottom back to the surface, fueling life. The conveyor belt currents are also a central factor in distributing heat around the planet and stabilizing the Earth’s climate.
Melting sea ice and glaciers are now pouring more fresh water into the ocean, making the waters where this occurs less salty and dense, so less likely to sink. The effects of freshening waters on thermohaline circulation and ocean currents in the Southern Ocean are not yet known, but studies on the North Atlantic this year found that increasing fresh water melt in the Arctic has caused a slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC). One of the studies suggested the slowdown has been around 15 percent since 1950. Climatologist Michael Mann said the AMOC slowdown is “happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict” and, “I think we’re close to a tipping point.”
What acceleration of ice melt and changing ocean currents will mean for sea level rise that threatens the world coastlines, islands and huge swaths of humanity; for the impact on world climate; and for ocean life and ecosystems that humans also rely on to eat and breathe, is difficult to exactly predict. Nonetheless, it’s clear the climate crisis is already extreme and accelerating. Much depends on whether human society acts quickly to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions currently warming the planet, and takes other urgent steps to prevent ecological disaster.
Instead of being reduced, however, carbon emissions continue to grow, recently measured at 410 parts per million, a level not seen in millions of years. In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that April 2018 was the 400th straight month that global temperatures were warmer than average.
The Problems of Trump and Capitalism
Faced with this situation of potential ecological catastrophe, Trump and his allies who wield power in the US, lie that global warming is a fabrication, a hoax, or impossible to confirm. They deny the overwhelming evidence and cover over clearly demonstrated science. But this isn’t just a denial of reality, as bad as that is. This is, as The New York Times journalist Justin Gillis said of Scott Pruitt’s denial of climate change, a “civilization-threatening lie.” This is a conscious act that sows confusion, denies people knowledge and prevents them from being able to respond to the existential danger climate change represents. Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department and other agencies are moving as fully and as quickly as they can to overturn or eliminate every rule, regulation and barrier that stands in the way of fossil fuel development and use. Their goal is to protect the “freedom” of giant corporations to plunder the natural world to maximize their profitability, and to enhance US “energy dominance,” no matter the destruction it brings.
At the end of May, the EPA announced its official proposal to rollback Obama-era regulations requiring automakers to make cars with higher fuel efficiency standards. If adopted, the likely result is a large increase of greenhouse emissions by the US, already by far the leading contributor to global warming historically. In January, Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to open up 90 percent of the country’s offshore coastal regions to oil drilling.
Companies have already applied for permits to begin work to develop new oil and gas projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, the largest and most pristine wildlife refuge in the country. Moreover, according to a piece in the Hill, “drilling into the refuge is just the tip of the iceberg. Trump is aggressively pushing Arctic drilling projects on water and land, selling off vast tracts of public lands and oceans, and rolling back drilling safety regulations meant to prevent catastrophic oil spills.”
In May, the White House canceled the vital NASA Carbon Monitoring System that uses satellite and aircraft instruments to track carbon and methane emissions and monitors country’s commitments to greenhouse gas cuts.
Bigger Than Trump
What the Trump regime is doing environmentally (and otherwise) is a threat to planetary life that must be stopped. This crisis, however, didn’t begin with Trump. The operation of the entire world capitalist system has raised greenhouse gases to the level they are and brought us to this juncture. Trump is just the latest and most destructive manifestation of an omnicidal system. The problem we face is that power rests in the hands of a capitalist class that is incapable of confronting our current ecological unraveling as the emergency it is.
The result is a crisis that is inexorably accelerating, with essentially nothing on the level actually needed being done to stop it. Instead of being able to respond from the need to protect life on Earth and world humanity, the capitalist rulers are constrained by the interests and needs of their system for profitability to contend with and beat out rivals.
Karl Marx said presciently of capitalist economic relations, “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”
The capitalist competitive drive for accumulation is why, despite moves by Obama to limit drilling in some places and make modest cuts to greenhouse emissions, fracking and oil and gas production skyrocketed under his administration. It’s also why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned as a climate change fighter and protector of First Nations rights, has now promised to sink billions of Canadian government dollars into buying the Trans Mountain pipeline that investors were just about to pull out of. Trudeau said of the huge reserves of tar sands oil, the production of which is poisoning Indigenous people and lands in Alberta and the full burning of which would mean climate catastrophe, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.”
Exactly. No capitalist country would. That’s exactly why capitalism cannot be allowed to continue to rule and destroy our planet. Winning a better world, is up to us. What better day to begin, than World Ocean’s Day.
Now floating northwest of the South Georgia islands near the tail of South America, the iceberg — named B-15 — has traveled more than 6,600 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the ice shelf and is veering dangerously close to the equator. [Photos: Diving Beneath Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf
Satellite images taken from the International Space Station (ISS) on May 22 confirm that the remains of the iceberg are on a crash course with warm tropical waters, where growing pools of meltwater will soon “work [their] way through the iceberg like a set of knives,” NASA glaciologist Kelly Brunt said in a statement.
The freewheelin’, formerly Connecticut-size iceberg first embarked on its long cruise after breaking away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, NASA said. At the time, it was the largest single chunk of ice ever to split off from the shelf, measuring 160 nautical miles long and 20 nautical miles wide. (That’s a total area of 3,200 square nautical miles — larger than the island of Jamaica.)
Currents swept the berg three-quarters of the way around Antarctica; then, it suddenly shifted northward into the southern Atlantic Ocean within the past year or two, NASA said.
The stately raft of ice has gradually splintered into many smaller pieces, most of which have already melted. Today, only four chunks remain with a large enough surface area to be trackable by the National Ice Center (20 square nautical miles is the minimum).
The chunk observed from the ISS last month (its name is B-15Z) still has a surface area of about 50 square nautical miles, but it is likely nearing the end of its journey as it floats ever closer to the equator. According to NASA, icebergs have been known to rapidly melt once they drift into this region. A large fracture is already visible at B-15Z’s center, and smaller pieces are crumbling away from its edges.
Its descent into social-justice identity politics is the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality.
ILLUSTRATION: DAVID GOTHARD
Steven F. Hayward
Climate change is over. No, I’m not saying the climate will not change in the future, or that human influence on the climate is negligible. I mean simply that climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue. All that remains is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special-interest renewable-energy rent seekers.
Judged by deeds rather than words, most national governments are backing away from forced-marched decarbonization. You can date the arc of climate change as a policy priority from 1988, when highly publicized congressional hearings first elevated the issue, to 2018. President Trump’s ostentatious withdrawal from the Paris Agreement merely ratified a trend long becoming evident.
A good indicator of why climate change as an issue is over can be found early in the text of the Paris Agreement. The “nonbinding” pact declares that climate action must include concern for “gender equality, empowerment of women, and intergenerational equity” as well as “the importance for some of the concept of ‘climate justice.’ ” Another is Sarah Myhre’s address at the most recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in which she proclaimed that climate change cannot fully be addressed without also grappling with the misogyny and social injustice that have perpetuated the problem for decades.
The descent of climate change into the abyss of social-justice identity politics represents the last gasp of a cause that has lost its vitality. Climate alarm is like a car alarm—a blaring noise people are tuning out.
This outcome was predictable. Political scientist Anthony Downs described the downward trajectory of many political movements in an article for the Public Interest, “Up and Down With Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention Cycle,’ ” published in 1972, long before the climate-change campaign began. Observing the movements that had arisen to address issues like crime, poverty and even the U.S.-Soviet space race, Mr. Downs discerned a five-stage cycle through which political issues pass regularly.
The first stage involves groups of experts and activists calling attention to a public problem, which leads quickly to the second stage, wherein the alarmed media and political class discover the issue. The second stage typically includes a large amount of euphoric enthusiasm—you might call it the “dopamine” stage—as activists conceive the issue in terms of global peril and salvation. This tendency explains the fanaticism with which divinity-school dropouts Al Gore and Jerry Brown have warned of climate change.
Then comes the third stage: the hinge. As Mr. Downs explains, there soon comes “a gradually spreading realization that the cost of ‘solving’ the problem is very high indeed.” That’s where we’ve been since the United Nations’ traveling climate circus committed itself to the fanatical mission of massive near-term reductions in fossil fuel consumption, codified in unrealistic proposals like the Kyoto Protocol. This third stage, Mr. Downs continues, “becomes almost imperceptibly transformed into the fourth stage: a gradual decline in the intensity of public interest in the problem.”
While opinion surveys find that roughly half of Americans regard climate change as a problem, the issue has never achieved high salience among the public, despite the drumbeat of alarm from the climate campaign. Americans have consistently ranked climate change the 19th or 20th of 20 leading issues on the annual Pew Research Center poll, while Gallup’s yearly survey of environmental issues typically ranks climate change far behind air and water pollution.
“In the final stage,” Mr. Downs concludes, “an issue that has been replaced at the center of public concern moves into a prolonged limbo—a twilight realm of lesser attention or spasmodic recurrences of interest.” Mr. Downs predicted correctly that environmental issues would suffer this decline, because solving such issues involves painful trade-offs that committed climate activists would rather not make.
A case in point is climate campaigners’ push for clean energy, whereas they write off nuclear power because it doesn’t fit their green utopian vision. A new study of climate-related philanthropy by Matthew Nisbet found that of the $556.7 million green-leaning foundations spent from 2011-15, “not a single grant supported work on promoting or reducing the cost of nuclear energy.” The major emphasis of green giving was “devoted to mobilizing public opinion and to opposing the fossil fuel industry.”
Scientists who are genuinely worried about the potential for catastrophic climate change ought to be the most outraged at how the left politicized the issue and how the international policy community narrowed the range of acceptable responses. Treating climate change as a planet-scale problem that could be solved only by an international regulatory scheme transformed the issue into a political creed for committed believers. Causes that live by politics, die by politics.
Mr. Hayward is a senior resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
(CNN)The desert of northwestern New Mexico, in the vicinity of the Four Corners, is my special place. The high-altitude sun sparkles off the badlands, illuminating rocky pastels of red, green and brown that seem to extend indefinitely in all directions. No wonder that Georgia O’Keeffe — who painted here for decades — found this landscape as her muse.
by Steve Brusatte
Not many people live here, making it feel like a remote backwater within the world’s most industrialized country. But that’s the way I like it. I’m a paleontologist, and I visit here at least once a year, to hunt for fossils of dinosaurs and other long-extinct creatures. The fewer buildings, roads and houses to cover up the treasure we seek, the better.
Most of the candy-striped badlands in this part of New Mexico are carved from rocks laid down in rivers and lakes between about 84 and 56 million years ago. These were lush environments, teeming with life during a time when the Earth was much warmer and there were no ice caps on the poles. Bones, teeth, shells, and other parts of animals would often get buried in mud or sand and turn to stone, becoming the fossils that provide the only clues that these lost worlds ever existed.
You can find many dinosaurs here. We often come across the railroad spike teeth of T. rex and the gargantuan limb bones of long-necked sauropods of the Brontosaurus mold, some of which weighed more than a Boeing 737, easily making them the largest animals to ever thunder across the land.
The New Mexico desert where fossils can be found.
We find the skull domes that horse-sized omnivores called pachycephalosaurs used to head butt each other, and the jaws that horned and duck-billed dinosaurs sliced up plants with. So many species, big and small, living together.
I usually prospect these colorful hills with one of my best friends in science, Tom Williamson, a curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. Sometimes, we walk for days and can’t get away from the dinosaur bones, because they are so common. By now we know the best places to find them: a layer-cake series of rock strata, formed during the very end of the Cretaceous Period (84-66 million years ago).
You can read the layers like the pages in a novel, and although the characters are fascinating, the story is fairly uneventful. During this whole stretch of time, dinosaurs were in control. History seemed to be standing still, and it appeared that dinosaurs would keep on ruling the world forever, as they had done for over 150 million years.
But then, suddenly, their bones disappear. We can pinpoint the exact place in the rock sequence. It’s where the cyclical mudstones and sandstones, records of that stable Cretaceous world, abruptly give way to coarser boulder-strewn rocks characteristic of fast-moving currents and corrosive storms. Something dramatic happened to the local environment, and the dinosaurs were gone.
A feathered dinosaur skeleton discovered in China.
The same pattern is seen halfway around the world, in the chalky-colored limestones of Gubbio, Italy. Underneath a medieval aqueduct that clings to the sides of a deep gorge, the geologist Walter Alvarez noted that the Cretaceous rocks at the bottom of the canyon are chock full of small fossils of ocean plankton.
Above these rocks, however, are nearly barren limestones, sprinkled with a few tiny, simple-looking fossils. The knife-edge separation between these two rocks is a dainty strip of clay, only about half an inch thick.
The clay is the cockpit voice recorder that reveals the fate of the plankton, and the dinosaurs: it is full of iridium, an element common in outer space but rare on Earth. It was delivered by a 6-mile-wide asteroid the size of Mount Everest, which was moving faster than a jetliner when it collided with the Earth 66 million years ago, punching a crater more than 100 miles wide and causing a chain reaction of volcanoes, wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes and climate change that wiped out some 70% of all living things.
The dinosaurs couldn’t cope, and all of them (except for a few birds) died. They were soon replaced, and we see the evidence in New Mexico. The chaotic boulder-filled rock layer quickly gives way to the same types of mudstones and sandstones that had been formed during the Cretaceous, a sign that environments returned to normal within a few thousand years. But there are no dinosaur bones to be found in these newer Paleocene-aged rocks (66-56 million years old).
Instead, there are countless jaws, teeth, and skeletons of the things that took over from the dinosaurs, the species that went on to start the next great dynasty of Earth history: mammals.
It’s a sobering story, and one of relevance to us today, as our climate and environment are changing rapidly.
There are consequences to all of this upheaval: we are in the age of the so-called “sixth extinction,” with species dying out at hundreds or thousands of times the usual rate. Faster, perhaps, than even during the five mass extinctions of Earth history, including the one that killed the dinosaurs.
Maybe dinosaurs can help save us. We’re used to thinking of them as movie monsters, skeletons that wow tourists at museums, and objects of childhood fascination. But they are so much more than that. They were real living, breathing, evolving animals that had to deal with rising and fall temperatures, fluctuating sea levels, volcanoes and asteroids.
After all, none of the environmental changes going on today is new. The Earth has been through them before, and dinosaurs and other extinct animals can tell the story of what happened. What died, what survived, how long it took to recover.
Among the mammals that Tom Williamson has discovered in those dinosaur-free, post-extinction rocks in New Mexico is a skeleton of a puppy-sized creature called Torrejonia.
It had a slender body, gangly limbs and long fingers and toes, and you can almost envision it leaping through the trees. It is one of the oldest primates — a fairly close cousin of ours, and a reminder that we humans had ancestors that were there on that terrible day, that saw the rock fall from the sky, that survived the cataclysm while the dinosaurs did not, probably because they were small, agile, adaptable and able to eat many types of food.
There is something almost poetic about it. In a sense, we are the dinosaurs. Before creatures like Torrejonia started the domino chain of evolution that led to humans, the dinosaurs ruled. They evolved superpowers like big brains, keen senses and the ability to grow to enormous sizes. There were probably many billions of them, living in all corners of the globe, that woke up on that day 66 million years ago confident of their undisputed place at the pinnacle of nature.
We humans now wear the crown that once belonged to the dinosaurs. We are confident of our place at the pinnacle of creation, even as our actions are rapidly changing the planet around us. It leaves me uneasy, and a troubling thought lingers as I walk through the New Mexico scrublands, seeing the bones of dinosaurs give way so suddenly to fossils of Torrejonia and other mammals.
If it could happen to the dinosaurs, could it also happen to us?
Dinosaurs, of course, had no way to prevent the asteroid that killed them. But we have a choice — we can still stop, or at least slow down, pumping toxins into the atmosphere. Our choice will dictate whether we really are the dinosaurs: whether we go the way of T. rex and Triceratops, or whether we have learned from their sad story.