The combination of Antarctica’s dynamic climate system, its short observational records, and its potential to cause costly heatwaves, drought and sea-level rise in Australia, mean that we can’t afford to stifle fundamental research in our own backyard.
Record high to record low: what on earth is happening to Antarctica’s sea ice? https://theconversation.com/record-high-to-record-low-what-on-earth-is-happening-to-antarcticas-sea-ice-66114September 29, 2016 2016 continues to be a momentous year for Australia’s climate, on track to be the new hottest year on record.
To our south, Antarctica has also just broken a new climate record, with record low winter sea ice. After a peak of 18.5 million square kilometres in late August, sea ice began retreating about a month ahead of schedule and has been setting daily low records through most of September.
It may not seem unusual in a warming world to hear that Antarctica’s sea ice – the ice that forms each winter as the surface layer of the ocean freezes – is reducing. But this year’s record low comes hot on the heels ofrecord high sea ice just two years ago. Overall, Antarctica’s sea ice has been growing, not shrinking.
So how should we interpret this apparent backflip? In our paper published today in Nature Climate Change we review the latest science on Antarctica’s climate, and why it seems so confusing.
First up, Antarctic climate records are seriously short.
The International Geophysical Year in 1957/58 marked the start of many sustained scientific efforts in Antarctica, including regular weather readings at research bases. These bases are mostly found on the more accessible parts of Antarctica’s coast, and so the network – while incredibly valuable – leaves vast areas of the continent and surrounding oceans without any data.
In the end, it took the arrival of satellite monitoring in the 1979 to deliver surface climate information covering all of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. What scientists have observed since has been surprising.
Overall, Antarctica’s sea ice zone has expanded. This is most notable in the Ross Sea, and has brought increasing challenges for ship-based access to Antarctica’s coastal research stations. Even with the record low in Antarctic sea ice this year, the overall trend since 1979 is still towards sea ice expansion.
The surface ocean around Antarctica has also mostly been cooling. This cooling masks a much more ominous change deeper down in the ocean, particularly near the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Totten glacier in East Antarctica. In these regions, worrying rates of subsurface ocean warming have been detected up against the base of ice sheets. There are real fears that subsurface melting could destabilise ice sheets, accelerating future global sea level rise.
In the atmosphere we see that some parts of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctica are experiencing rapid warming, despite average Antarctic temperatures not changing that much yet.
In a rapidly warming world these Antarctic climate trends are – at face value – counterintuitive. They also go against many of our climate model simulations, which, for example, predict that Antarctica’s sea ice should be in decline.
Winds of change
The problem we face in Antarctica is that the climate varies hugely from year to year, as typified by the enormous swing in Antarctica sea ice over the past two years.
This means 37 years of Antarctic surface measurements are simply not enough to detect the signal of human-caused climate change. Climate models tell us we may need to monitor Antarctica closely until 2100 before we can confidently identify the expected long-term decline of Antarctica’s sea ice.
In short, Antarctica’s climate remains a puzzle, and we are currently trying to see the picture with most of the pieces still missing.
But one piece of the puzzle is clear. Across all lines of evidence a picture of dramatically changing Southern Ocean westerly winds has emerged. Rising greenhouse gases and ozone depletion are forcing the westerlies closer to Antarctica, and robbing southern parts of Australia of vital winter rain.
The changing westerlies may also help explain the seemingly unusual changes happening elsewhere in Antarctica.
The expansion of sea ice, particularly in the Ross Sea, may be due to the strengthened westerlies pushing colder Antarctic surface water northwards. And stronger westerlies may isolate Antarctica from the warmer subtropics, inhibiting continent-scale warming. These plausible explanations remain difficult to prove with the records currently available to scientists.
Australia’s unique climate position
The combination of Antarctica’s dynamic climate system, its short observational records, and its potential to cause costly heatwaves, drought and sea-level rise in Australia, mean that we can’t afford to stifle fundamental research in our own backyard.
Our efforts to better understand, measure and predict Antarctic climate were threatened this year by funding cuts to Australia’s iconic climate research facilities at the CSIRO. CSIRO has provided the backbone of Australia’s Southern Ocean measurements. As our new paper shows, the job is far from done.
A recent move to close Macquarie Island research station to year-round personnel would also have seriously impacted the continuity of weather observations in a region where our records are still far too short. Thankfully, this decision has since been reversed.
But it isn’t all bad news. In 2016, the federal government announced new long-term funding in Antarctic logistics, arresting the persistent decline in funding of Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.
The nearly A$2 billion in new investment includes a new Australian icebreaking ship to replace the ageing Aurora Australis. This will bring a greater capacity for Southern Ocean research and the capability to push further into Antarctica’s sea ice zone.
Whatever the long-term trends in sea ice hold it is certain that the large year-to-year swings of Antarctica’s climate will continue to make this a challenging but critical environment for research.
Dr Goebbels would be delighted with the nuclear lobby’s lie that nuclear power is zero carbon and will fix climate change. He would be even more delighted with the current success of this lie.
“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
The failing nuclear industry is fighting for its life. It now pitches its salvation on its claim to halt climate change.
Even if that were true (which it isn’t) the world would have to construct several thousand ‘conventional’ reactors, or several millions of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) very quickly, within a decade or two.
How is it that politicians , media, academics have swallowed this lie?
Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) lodges appeal against Federal Court’s approval of giant Adani coal mine
“ACF disputes the Environment Minister’s argument in court that the burning of coal from Carmichael mine will not have an impact on global warming and the Great Barrier Reef.
““This is a profound moment in the history of protecting Australia’s environment, as we attempt to stop a coal mine that would create 4.6 billion tonnes of climate pollution if it is allowed to proceed,” said ACF’s President Geoff Cousins.
““Australia’s system of environment laws is broken if it allows the Federal Environment Minister to approve a mega-polluting coal mine – the biggest in Australia’s history – and claim it will have no impact on the global warming and the reef.
““If our environment laws are too weak to actually protect Australia’s unique species and places,they effectively give companies like Adani a licence to kill.
““Be in no doubt, Adani’s Carmichael proposal is massive and will lock in decades of damaging climate pollution if it goes ahead, further wrecking the reef. … “
By Peter Ryan, 16 Sept 16 Australia’s economy would not be hurt by a gradual phasing out of coal production across the country, research suggests.The Australia Institute-commissioned study found there would be minimal economic impact if the Government imposed a moratorium on new coal mines or the expansion of existing ones.
It also concluded that the managed winding back of coal production as existing mines are depleted would be an economic blip, given the industry’s share of employment which represents 0.04 per cent of the Australian workforce.
It estimated the economy would grow regardless of a phasing out, with a difference of just 0.06 per cent in 2040.
Professor Philip Adams, who led the research at Victoria University’s Centre of Policy Studies, told the ABC’s AM program environmental policies to put a tax on carbon were effectively a tax on the use of coal.
“The world outlook for coal is fairly bleak. We don’t see much likelihood of strong market conditions for coal over the longer term,” Professor Adams said.
“Look the end of coal is nigh. The question is whether it’s nigh enough,” Mr Dennis told AM.
“The effect is a rounding error — it’s trivial. The Australian economy will still double in size in the coming decades…….http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-16/coal-death-would-not-kill-economy/7851260?section=environment
Macquarie Island research closure will lead to deterioration in weather forecasting, scientist says, ABC News, By Elise Fantin , 15 Sep 16 The closure of the Macquarie Island research station will put weather forecasting at risk, a climate scientist has warned.
- Rainfall, temperature, wind and cloud measurements are taken daily on the island
- Weather balloons are launched daily for atmospheric measurements
- Loss of data will lead to deterioration of forecasting, scientist says
The Australian Antarctic Division announced on Tuesday to close the station in March next year and restrict research to field huts during the summer period only.
Atmospheric scientist Professor David Karoly — who sits on the Federal Government’s Climate Change Authority — said the station’s closure would have long-term consequences for data collection……http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-14/macquarie-island-weather-research-at-risk/7845428
his views could now have relevance and importance – not because they are potentially true, but because they could influence the workings of parliament.
Debunking Malcolm Roberts: the case against a climate science denier
In his first speech to Parliament on Tuesday, Roberts made many false claims about climate change. He said that climate change was a “scam” and implied that it was some sort of conspiracy between all the major international research agencies. “ … there is no data proving human use of hydro-carbon fuels affects climate,” he said.
Most news outlets had stopped covering the views of climate science deniers in regular reporting. There is a clear scientific consensus that the world is warming and that human carbon emissions have caused it, so reporting the views of a few non-experts who push fanciful theories with no credible evidence is seen as “false balance”.
But journalists are in a different position when someone in an important office holds such views………
to avoid repeatedly having to debunk Roberts’ views, we have produced a handy reference list of his main arguments, as outlined on the ABC’s Q&A program on 15 August. This list may be updated if he introduces new elements to back his claims.: Continue reading
Switching banks: nearly half of all Australians would consider move over climate change
Poll findings released as prominent Australians call on big four to withdraw backing for fossil fuel industry, Guardian, Michael Slezak, 14 Sept 16, About half of all Australians would be likely to switch banks if they found out their bank was lending money to projects that contribute to climate change, according to polling commissioned by the financial activist group Market Forces.
The findings came as more than 100 prominent Australian individuals and organisations signed a letter demanding that the big four banks stop supporting projects that expand the fossil fuel industry. Among the signatories are JM Coetzee, Charlotte Wood, James Bradley, Missy Higgins, Peter Singer and Jack Mundey, as well as unions, religious orders and conservation groups.
Asked how important it was that their bank invest in companies and projects that don’t harm the environment and contribute to climate change, 74% of the poll’s respondents who were with the big four banks said it was at least “somewhat important”, according to the Essential Research poll of 1,017 people.
Forty-eight per cent of respondents said they would be more likely to switch banks if they learned their bank was lending to projects that harmed the environment or contributed to climate change.
When the researchers drilled down into specific types of projects, respondents appeared very concerned. Forty-seven per cent said they were likely to switch banks if they found out their bank was lending to coal and gas export projects in the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area. And 48% said they were likely to switch if they found out theirs was lending to coal seam gas projects near agricultural communities.
Respondents also overwhelmingly supported the big four banks’ decisions to support the goal to limit warming to “well below” 2C. But 65% of people agreed that given their support of that goal, the banks should no longer lend to projects that expand the fossil fuel industry.
In August Market Forces conducted research that found the big four banks had lent $5.6bn to fossil fuel projects and companies since they expressed support for the target.
In the open letter, released at the same time as the poll findings, the signatoreis outline a number of actions that the banks must commit to in light of their support for the Paris agreement goal……..https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/15/switching-banks-nearly-half-of-all-australians-would-consider-move-over-climate-change
Australia’s carbon budget to be exhausted in six years, Stockholm group says http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/australias-carbon-budget-to-be-exhausted-in-six-years-stockholm-group-says-20160908-grbql4.html Peter Hannam
Australia will burn through its “fair share” of carbon within six years if the more-ambitious end of the global warming goals agreed to at the Paris climate summit is to be achieved, a respected European think-tank says.
Restricting warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times implies a global carbon budget of less than 250 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent from 2015, the Stockholm Environment Institute said in a new study. The planet has warmed about 1 degree in the past century alone.
Taking Australia’s share of this budget to be 1 per cent – arguably a generous measure as the nation makes up just 0.3 per cent of the world’s population – the country will emit that 2.5 billion-tonne portion within six years at present polluting rates.
“[Australia’s] transformation to a post-carbon era must be rapid and comprehensive, and include diversification away from fossil extraction for energy and export,” Sivan Kartha, the author of the report, said.
Among the world’s largest polluters on a per-capita basis, Australia had “a high level of responsibility for the greenhouse gases that have caused the climate problem”. Its wealth and technical capabilities, though, also gave Australia “a level of capacity to help solve it”, the report says.
Geoffrey Cousins, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the Turnbull government “had made new commitments in Paris, talked them up when they came back but not a single policy has changed since then”.
“There is no great urgency, things will just roll nicely on, and we continue to approve new coal mines,” Mr Cousins said, adding the Stockholm report revealed how little time was left to take serious steps to cut emissions.
Two developments on Thursday offered conflicting signals of government action on climate.
As revealed by Fairfax Media, $92 million in grant funding by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency had sparked almost as much as $1 billion in private funding that will triple the size of large-scale solar in the country.
The government also announced $30.05 million to fund a new ARC Centre for Excellence for Climate Extremes. The seven-year funding will mean the existing centre, based at the University of NSW, can morph into a group study on why rising temperatures are triggering a disproportionate increase in extremes such as heatwaves.
According to the Stockholm report, a large fraction of the world’s proved fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground for any “plausible budget” to keep global warming the “well-below 2 degrees” goal agreed in Paris.
That means the market for Australia’s fossil fuel exports will need to “rapidly reduce and ultimately disappear”.
“Action taken to increase Australia’s capacity for fossil fuel production – such as increasing export capacity or commissioning new coal mines – is difficult to reconcile with the goals of the Paris Agreement,” the report says.
Australia is the world’s second-biggest coal exporter and also the second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Australia’s thermal coal exports face 20 years of sharp falls, The Australian, September 8, 2016, BARRY FITZGERALD
Australia’s thermal coal exports are facing a sharp reduction over the next 20 years as the world steps up its attack on carbon emissions.
Leading industry consultancy Wood Mackenzie estimates Australia’s exports of the power generating fuel could slump from 210 million tonnes this year to 135 million tonnes by 2035
Key markets in Asia, Europe, and the Americas are all expected to record sharp falls in demand as the switch to meeting energy demand through energy efficiencies, nuclear power and a growth in renewables/battery storage alternatives steps up.
the next 20 years as the world steps up its attack on carbon emissions…….http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/australias-thermal-coal-exports-face-20-years-of-sharp-falls/news-story/e059ac40237ef59ccc2889a61d68284b
It is the world’s largest coal exporter, and both major political parties are financially backed by the coal lobby. Rather than move away from coal, the government is seeking to expand exports dramatically, with public subsidies and taxpayer-funded infrastructure.
The contrast could not be starker. While Pacific leaders are praised for their efforts to develop global climate solutions, Australia faces ignominy. Unless Australia changes direction, it will continue to be seen as an irresponsible middle power – a rogue state undermining global efforts to tackle climate change.
Pacific pariah: how Australia’s love of coal has left it out in the diplomatic cold, https://theconversation.com/pacific-pariah-how-australias-love-of-coal-has-left-it-out-in-the-diplomatic-cold-64963 The Conversation, Wesley Morgan, 7 Sept 16, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will have some explaining to do when he attends the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting in Pohnpei, Micronesia, this week.
Australia’s continued determination to dig up coal, while refusing to dig deep to tackle climate change, has put it increasingly at odds with world opinion. Nowhere is this more evident than when Australian politicians meet with their Pacific island counterparts.
It is widely acknowledged that Pacific island states are at the front line of climate change. It is perhaps less well known that, for a quarter of a century, Australia has attempted to undermine their demands in climate negotiations at the United Nations.
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) – organised around an annual meeting between island leaders and their counterparts from Australia and New Zealand – is the Pacific region’s premier political forum. But island nations have been denied the chance to use it to press hard for their shared climate goals, because Australia has used the PIF to weaken the regional declarations put forward by Pacific nations at each key milestone in the global climate negotiation process. Continue reading
US-China ratification of Paris Agreement ramps up the pressure on Australia, The Conversation, Peter Christoff September 5, 2016, When President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping announced their countries’ ratification of the Paris climate agreement ahead of last weekend’s G20 meeting in Hangzhou, they boosted its chances of coming into force by the end of this year, some 12 months after the deal was brokered last December.
To enter into force, the Paris Agreement requires ratification by at least 55 nations which together account for at least 55% of global greenhouse emissions. It will then become legally binding on those parties that have both signed and ratified it. These thresholds ensure that the deal has broad legitimacy among states, but are also low enough to limit the opportunities for blocking by states that may oppose its progress.
Aside from China and the United States – the world’s two largest emitters, which together produce 39% of the world’s emissions – another 24 countries have ratified the agreement.
To get over the threshold, it now only needs the support of a handful of major emitters like the European Union (a bloc of 27 countries producing some 10% of global emissions), India, Russia or Brazil. Ratification by countries such as Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom (each of which contributes about 1.5% of emissions) would also contribute significantly to this momentum………
Australia left as a laggard
The US-China announcement not only increases the momentum for ratification, but also increases pressure on Australia. With the Kyoto Protocol, Australia loyally supported the United States and refused to ratify until 2007. This time, similar recalcitrance is likely to be met with strong international disapproval.
However, ratification is only the beginning. Australia will then be required to revise and toughen its targets for 2030 and beyond. Its weak 2030 mitigation target is accompanied by policies inadequate to meet this goal.
The Paris Agreement, once in force, will require a more robust Australian target to be announced by 2023 at the latest. This in turn will further highlight the gap between current and sufficient implementation measures.
The US-China ratification announcement is the next step along a path that must see Australia climb – or be dragged – out of its current climate policy torpor. https://theconversation.com/us-china-ratification-of-paris-agreement-ramps-up-the-pressure-on-australia-64821
Queensland University of Technology commits to divesting its fossil fuel shares, ABC News by Nick Kilvert, 5 Sep 16, Student activists and academics at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are celebrating after learning the university has committed to divesting its shares in fossil fuels.
The decision comes after an ongoing campaign by Fossil Free QUT, which included an open letter signed by more than 120 academics, calling for the university to join the global movement, following the success of similar campaigns at universities across Australia.
Vice-chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake sent a statement via email on Friday informing staff of the decision to steer investments away from coal, oil, and gas companies.
“We have reviewed QUT’s investments relative to climate risk and instituted changes to the university’s investment strategy,” the statement said.
“QUT is committed to an orderly and considered transition away from investment in fossil fuel companies.”…….
The move makes QUT the first university in Queensland and the second largest in Australia to withdraw investment in fossil fuel companies, and comes despite a strong focus on geological science (earth science) at the university’s Gardens Point campus…….http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-05/qut-to-divest-fossil-fuel-investments/7816016
‘Untrue and dangerous’: Climate Change Authority board at war over own advice, The Age, 5 Sept 16 Adam Morton High-profile members of the federal government’s Climate Change Authority have launched a stinging critique of their colleagues, accusing them of giving “untrue and dangerous” advice that ignores what science demands.
Board members David Karoly, an internationally recognised scientist, and Clive Hamilton, an academic and author, have published a dissenting report criticising the authority’s advice to the government released last week.
The split is over whether the authority’s role is to give unflinching science-based advice or, after years of policy failure in Canberra, recommend what is politically achievable.
It follows then environment minister Greg Hunt’s appointment of five new board members last year, including former Coalition politicians.
The dissenting pair accuse the authority of failing to give independent guidance, and instead basing its report on “a reading from a political crystal ball”……..
Professor Karoly said the authority’s report failed to meet its terms of reference and was a recipe for further delay.
“It makes recommendations that are not soundly based on climate science,” he said.
Professor Hamilton, a former Greens candidate, said it gave the impression Australia had plenty of time to introduce measures that could bring down emissions sharply.
- “This is untrue and dangerous. Given this, we felt we had no choice but to write our own report,” he said…….
Gaping chasm between Coalition’s climate mantra and the real debate, Guardian, Lenore Taylor, 3 Sept 16 Like the emperor with no clothes, Josh Frydenberg is continuing the grand parade, insisting that Australia is making a successful transition.
Amost every group with a financial, intellectual or ethical interest in salvaging a workable climate policy is now deep in an urgent debate about how Australia can break a decade of policy paralysis. Everyone except the Turnbull government, that is.
The debate, involving big business, small business, investors, the government’s own independent climate advisers, academics, environmentalists, the welfare lobby and the unions, is predicated on the obvious conclusion that our policy – as it stands – cannot deliver the cuts to greenhouse emissions that are domestically necessary and which Australia has promised internationally.
But like the emperor with no clothes, continuing with the grand parade even after the whole crowd has finally declared him naked, the new environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, still insists Australia is “transitioning successfully with the policies we already have in place”. Continue reading