Friday, February 19, 2021

Cold Snaps Expose Climate Science Fragility

Cold snaps can be deadly. A 2014 National Health Statistics report found, “During 2006–2010, about 2,000 U.S. residents died each year from weather-related deaths; 63% were attributed to exposure to natural cold. The recent cold snap in Texas and Germany highlighted our energy system’s vulnerabilities. During times of our greatest need, inadequate natural gas supplies, frozen wind turbines and snow-covered solar panels, left too many shivering in the dark. Why were we unprepared for such cold when the northern hemisphere had been experiencing a winter cooling trend since 1990? Were government officials too gullible, lulled by narratives that global warming would make snow disappear and cold snaps less likely?


After every deadly cold snap, defenders of CO2-driven-climate-change repeat the same unbelievable narrative “increased warming causes more cold”. Their argument is based on a sliver of truth regards the polar vortex’s influence on cold air. In the winter without sunlight, polar air cools much faster than the lower latitude air. The stark temperature contrast between cold and warm air intensifies the polar jet stream which defines the vortex’s boundary. The sliver of truth is intruding warmth can indeed weaken the vortex



The vortex was heavily studied in the 1990s due to concerns about ozone holes. Although typically ignored by the media, increasing CO2 both warms the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and cools the stratosphere. Climate models all predicted the vortex would strengthen because greenhouse gases would enhance stratospheric cooling by 5–7°C during December and January by 2019. Because ozone depletion requires extreme cold, it was feared increasing CO2 would enhance the ozone holes. Furthermore, climate scientists argued a warming troposphere and a cooling stratosphere was the undeniable “human fingerprint” of CO2 caused climate change. But their science was woefully incomplete. Stratospheric warming increased, the 2019 ozone hole was smallest on record and the vortex weakened despite CO2-caused cooling.


High in the stratosphere, the boundary of the vortex is symmetrical simply based on the contrast between colder and warmer latitudes. However, near the surface, mountains and land-sea temperature contrasts naturally cause the jet stream to be wavy. The Pacific high-pressure system and USA’s western mountain ranges cause the jet stream to veer northward, pulling warm subtropical air north over North America’s west coast. Moving eastward the jet stream then plunges southward driving extreme cold into the USA east of the Rocky Mountains. This natural undulation likely explains the “warming hole” in southeastern USA where temperatures have not warmed for over a century. Over 36% of the long-term USA weather stations, concentrated mostly in the eastern USA, experienced 70-year cooling trends despite urban heat island affects.


Some climate scientists argue CO2 induced “Arctic Amplification” causing warmer polar temperatures which increases the jet stream’s waviness. However, there is no consensus for their hypothesis, and some argue there is little evidence at all for that effect. Nonetheless there is an excellent, albeit ignored, explanation for the warming Arctic/cooling mid-latitudes paradox. The natural quasi-permanent Aleutian Low nearly explains it all, with similar dynamics in the north Atlantic.


The Arctic Ocean radiates away more heat (~100 watts/m2) than it absorbs from sun and greenhouse effects combined. (human-added CO2 offsets less than 2 watts/m2) It’s the inflow of warm ocean water that determines if the Arctic ocean cools or warms. Like the stratospheric vortex, the Aleutian Low forms every year as the northern hemisphere cools, but its position and strength vary due to natural El Nino cycles, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation. When the Aleutian Low is positioned over the Bering Sea it drives warm southern air and warm storms further northward. That dynamic also raises sea level south of the Bering Strait, increasing warm water flows through the strait. Increased warm water flows melt more sea ice and triggers Arctic Amplification and higher temperatures.


Simultaneously, when the Aleutian Low is positioned over the Bering Sea its strength increases, intensifying upward motions of relatively warm air into the stratosphere. It’s that warmth that weakens the polar vortex and unleashes the cold Arctic air. When natural weather re-positions the Aleutian Low over the Gulf of Alaska, wind direction changes, blowing water away from the Bering Strait. That reduces warm water flows into the Arctic. The Aleutian Low also weakens reducing upward atmospheric motion, allowing the vortex to strengthen.


The Aleutian Low’s position changes throughout the winter and from year to year. However, before the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) switched phases, between 1950–1976 the Aleutian Low spent, on average, 16 months over the Bering Sea and 20 months over the Gulf of Alaska. After the PDO shifted, the Aleutian Low only spent 7 months during the next 25 years over the Gulf Alaska and more time over the Bering Sea.  That shift changed the balance to a warmer Arctic, a more common weaker vortex and more cold snaps.


Clearly energy policy must be better prepared to deal with natural climate change and its periodic extreme cold.


Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and a member of the CO2 Coalition




Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Kivalina Disappearance Not Caused by Climate Change

In 2017 Huffington Post wrote, “It is disappearing. Fast. Kivalina could be uninhabitable by 2025, all thanks to climate change.” Like so many media outlets and politicians, they were ignoring Kivalina’s real problem. Kivalina was never a place the Inupiaq freely chose to settle. With survival on the line, they were intimately aware of Alaska’s everchanging environments, long before the theory of CO2?induced?climate?change could be blamed. Kivalina was a good seasonal hunting camp, but never valued as a permanent settlement. Indigenous Alaskans had wisely chosen to be semi-nomadic. Nonetheless the Inupiaq were victimized by  mis-guided government attempts to enforce “permanence” in an everchanging climate when the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) made it a permanent settlement in 1905.


As REVEAL reported, “The Inupiaq used to spend summers in tents along Kivalina's beach. When winter set in, they'd move inland to hunt caribou for food. They were semi-nomadic but in 1905 the federal government built a school on the island. Parents were threatened with jail time or losing their kids all together if they didn't send them to school.” In 1911 just 6 years after forced settlement, and long before any “dangerous sea level rise” or “dangerous sea ice reduction”, Kivalina’s schoolteacher Clinton Replogle warned that Kivalina should be relocated due to threats of flooding from ocean storms.


As with most  barrier islands, Kivalina island was formed from a loosely consolidated sand bar. Ocean waves drove sand and gravel back towards the coast where in the shallows it accumulated into a sand bar. Erosion by river flow on its landward side maintained a lagoon and the bar’s narrow width. Barrier islands form when rivers seeking an outlet to the ocean cut the sand bars into pieces. Kivalina’s river outlet is unstable. Some years it’s blocked by sand piled up during winter storm waves. Later it’s re-opened by river erosion. As Tribal Administrator Millie Hawley recently stated, “Kivalina was always eroding.”


Barrier islands form where shallow?sloping ocean floors minimize any loss of sand that might irretrievably wash away into the deeper ocean. However, such shallow ocean floors also amplify wave heights of approaching storms. Kivalina’s ultimate height, a mere 13 feet, was determined by the sediments dropped from overtopping waves. Kivalina was established within 1 to 2 feet of the high tide mark even though storms in late summer and the ice?free fall deliver waves 10 feet or higher. No wonder the threat of devastating storm surge and floods was so clear to Clinton Replogle. Indeed, geological surveys have revealed flooding from waves that had overtopped Kivalina happened at least twice between1905 and 1990.


In 1994, before climate change reduced Chukchi Sea ice, Inupiaq residents initiated a study to relocate. However,  in an economy based on subsistence harvesting of seals, walrus, whale, salmon, and caribou, funding for relocation was scarce. State and federal governments offered little support. So, after government reports touted “destructive global warming”, in 2011 the residents opted to file a lawsuit against the major oil companies arguing “Kivalina must be relocated due to global warming” and sought funds to cover an estimated cost of $95 million to $400 million. Although their lawsuit failed, previously little?cared?about Kivalina was thrust into the limelight as an icon of the “climate crisis”. Alarmist media outlets repeatedly claimed Kivalina was disappearing because increasing CO2 concentrations were raising sea levels and reducing sea ice. But the science suggests otherwise.


Sea levels across the Arctic vary as winds remove water from one region and pile it up in another. Along the Chukchi coast bordering Kivalina sea level had not risen since the 1990s.  Furthermore, summer winds cause warmer waters to flow northward through the Bering Strait, which initiates sea ice melt every year. Over the past few decades those winds doubled the volume of warm water flowing through the strait, melting more ice. In contrast to fears about less ice, more open water enhanced photosynthesis and increased the  marine food web that the Inupiaq depend on by 30% .


Air temperatures had risen twice as fast as elsewhere, because more Intruding warm water released more heat to the atmosphere and more open water absorbed more sunlight. That temperature dynamic was dubbed “Arctic Amplification”. However, most climate models now agree, it’s not the rising CO2 concentration but intruding warm Pacific water that drives Arctic Amplification.


Any connection between a greenhouse effect, increased warm water flow through the Bering Strait and Kivalina’s erosion remains to be seen. Kivalina is still an iconic example, not of a climate change crisis, but of media and government inattention to injustices perpetrated on indigenous Alaskans until it’s a useful political tool to fabricate a crisis. I suggest defunding the BIA for forcing settlements on vulnerable habitat and use BIA’s 1.9?billion?dollar budget to relocate the Inupiat to a place of their choosing.


Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and a member of the CO2 Coalition