Startling new research finds 60% more heat in oceans than thought; faster rate of global warming requires additional 25% reduction in GHG emissions

  • Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought per the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
  • The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.
  • To prevent temperatures from rising above 2C (3.6F warming in industrial era), emissions of carbon dioxide must be reduced by 25 percent compared to what was previously estimated.
  • The study is an example of how collecting long term data can have unexpected benefits.
  • The researchers’ results are the first to come from a measuring technique independent from the dominant method behind existing research.

Princeton University Read ScienceDaily article here and Washington Post coverage here.  Also NYTimes coverage here

Since 1991, the world’s oceans have absorbed an amount of heat energy each year that is 150 times the energy humans produce as electricity annually, according to a new study. The strong ocean warming the researchers found suggests that Earth is more sensitive to fossil-fuel emissions than previously thought….

…Scientists know that the ocean takes up roughly 90 percent of all the excess energy produced as Earth warms, so knowing the actual amount of energy makes it possible to estimate the surface warming we can expect, said co-author Ralph Keeling, a Scripps Oceanography geophysicist and Resplandy’s former postdoctoral adviser….

…[From NY Times] Scientists normally measure ocean temperatures using thermometers, but stitching together a global temperature record requires thermometers around the globe. Global temperature records were spotty before 2007, when an international consortium began a program, known as Argo, creating an international network of ocean-temperature-measuring instruments. But a group from Scripps Institution of Oceanography had been taking careful measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1991, for unrelated reasons. Dr. Resplandy and her team used that data set for this study. Dr. Nicholson said the study was an example of how collecting data now can have unexpected benefits later….

ABSTRACT: The ocean is the main source of thermal inertia in the climate system1. During recent decades, ocean heat uptake has been quantified by using hydrographic temperature measurements and data from the Argo float program, which expanded its coverage after 20072,3. However, these estimates all use the same imperfect ocean dataset and share additional uncertainties resulting from sparse coverage, especially before 20074,5. Here we provide an independent estimate by using measurements of atmospheric oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2)—levels of which increase as the ocean warms and releases gases—as a whole-ocean thermometer. We show that the ocean gained 1.33 ± 0.20  × 1022 joules of heat per year between 1991 and 2016, equivalent to a planetary energy imbalance of 0.83 ± 0.11 watts per square metre of Earth’s surface. We also find that the ocean-warming effect that led to the outgassing of O2 and CO2 can be isolated from the direct effects of anthropogenic emissions and CO2 sinks. Our result—which relies on high-precision O2 measurements dating back to 19916—suggests that ocean warming is at the high end of previous estimates, with implications for policy-relevant measurements of the Earth response to climate change, such as climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases7 and the thermal component of sea-level rise8.

Resplandy, Keeling, Eddebbar, Brooks et al. Quantification of ocean heat uptake from changes in atmospheric O2 and CO2 composition. Nature Nov 2018.

Are we losing one of our biggest CO2 sinks? Seagrasses help to buffer against climate change, but we are losing a soccer field size area every 30 minutes.

  • On average, eelgrass meadows stored 27.2 tons of organic carbon per hectare, although the variation between the regions was considerable (from three to 265 tons per hectare).
  • While coastal vegetated ecosystems, such as mangroves, saltmarshes, macroalgae and seagrasses, cover only 0.5 % of the seafloor, their carbon storage capacity accounts for more than 55 % of the carbon stored by photosynthetic activity on Earth.
  • In contrast to terrestrial soils, which usually store carbon up to decades, the carbon stored in blue carbon ecosystems may persist for timescales of millennia or longer and thus, contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and alleviation of the rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
  • Despite the importance of these ecosystems, to date, none of them are included in the global carbon trading programmes. Alarmingly, in the past 50 years, at least 1/3rd of the distribution area of coastal vegetated ecosystems has been lost….
  • The high carbon storage capacity of eelgrass meadows urges for protection and restoration of this unique ecosystem. Especially in the areas with the highest carbon stock capacity, they deserve recognition as part of global carbon marketing programmes.

October 31, 2018 Abo Akademi University Read ScienceDaily coverage here

[Researchers] explored the magnitude of organic carbon stocks stored and sequestered by eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows — the most abundant seagrass species in temperate waters. “We discovered that eelgrass organic carbon stocks were comparable to organic carbon stocks of tropical seagrass species, as well as mangroves, saltmarshes and terrestrial ecosystems,” Emilia Röhr says.

…”Terrestrial forests are well known for their capacity to store carbon (green carbon), while the so-called blue carbon stored and sequestered by coastal vegetated ecosystems, such as mangroves, saltmarshes, macroalgae and seagrasses, have received much less attention,” says Röhr. “Although these cover only 0.5 % of the seafloor, their carbon storage capacity accounts for more than 55 % of the carbon stored by photosynthetic activity on Earth.”

In the marine systems, the blue carbon species alone account for up to 33 % of the total oceanic CO2 uptake. In contrast to terrestrial soils, which usually store carbon up to decades, the carbon stored in blue carbon ecosystems may persist for timescales of millennia or longer and thus, contribute significantly to climate change mitigation and alleviation of the rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Despite the importance of these ecosystems, to date, none of them are included in the global carbon trading programmes.

Alarmingly, in the past 50 years, at least 1/3rd of the distribution area of coastal vegetated ecosystems has been lost….

Maria Emilia Röhr et al. Blue Carbon Storage Capacity of Temperate Eelgrass (Zostera marina) Meadows. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2018; DOI: 10.1029/2018GB005941


Despite the importance of coastal ecosystems for the global carbon budgets, knowledge of their carbon storage capacity and the factors driving variability in storage capacity is still limited. Here we provide an estimate on the magnitude and variability of carbon stocks within a widely distributed marine foundation species throughout its distribution area in temperate Northern Hemisphere. We sampled 54 eelgrass (Zostera marina) meadows, spread across eight ocean margins and 36° of latitude, to determine abiotic and biotic factors influencing organic carbon (Corg) stocks in Zostera marina sediments. The Corg stocks (integrated over 25‐cm depth) showed a large variability and ranged from 318 to 26,523 g C/m2 with an average of 2,721 g C/m2. The projected Corg stocks obtained by extrapolating over the top 1 m of sediment ranged between 23.1 and 351.7 Mg C/ha, which is in line with estimates for other seagrasses and other blue carbon ecosystems. Most of the variation in Corg stocks was explained by five environmental variables (sediment mud content, dry density and degree of sorting, and salinity and water depth), while plant attributes such as biomass and shoot density were less important to Corg stocks. Carbon isotopic signatures indicated that at most sites <50% of the sediment carbon is derived from seagrass, which is lower than reported previously for seagrass meadows. The high spatial carbon storage variability urges caution in extrapolating carbon storage capacity between geographical areas as well as within and between seagrass species.

Big Oil outspends billionaires in Washington state carbon tax fight

  • The U.S. oil industry has spent a record $30 million to fight a ballot measure in Washington state that would create the nation’s first carbon tax, double what an alliance of green groups and billionaire activists has spent to support it, according to state data reviewed by Reuters
  • The state’s Carbon Emissions Fee and Revenue Allocation Initiative, known as Initiative 1631, would impose a $15 fee on each metric ton of carbon released to the atmosphere, rising $2 a year until the state’s 2035 emissions target is met. It would generate $2.3 billion over five years for clean energy and air programs if it is passed by voters in next week’s election, according to a state analysis.

by Nichola Groom Read full Reuters article here

(Reuters) – ….The big-ticket battle reflects the stakes of climate regulation. The oil industry is worried that new curbs on carbon emissions will hobble business, while environmental advocates are concerned that a failure to act soon to halt global warming will spell devastating consequences for the planet.

Washington is the nation’s fifth biggest fuel-producing state, with five refineries, according to the Energy Information Administration. It is also among several Democrat-led states that have vowed to pursue climate action in defiance of President Donald Trump’s agenda to ease regulation on fossil fuel companies…

….A Crosscut/Elway poll this month showed half of voters approve of the initiative, with 36 percent against and 14 percent undecided.

If the measure passes, the oil industry is likely to feel the most pain since transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington at 43 percent, according to a state report from 2016….

Manure vs inorganic fertilizers — manure supports better soil quality by improving almost all soil properties

American Society of Agronomy Read full ScienceDaily article here

Researchers dug into how fertilizing with manure affects soil quality, compared with inorganic fertilizer in croplands…. They found:

  • Manure helped keep soil pH — a measure of acidity or alkalinity — in a healthy range for crops. Inorganic fertilizer made the soil more acidic.
  • Manure significantly increased total nitrogen compared to fertilizer treatments. Nitrogen is key to plant growth.
  • Manure increased water-stable aggregates. These are groups of soil particles that stick to each other. Increased water-stable aggregates help soil resist water erosion. Inorganic fertilizer application decreased these aggregates.
  • Manure increased soil electrical conductivity at all soil depths in comparison to inorganic fertilizer and control treatments. Higher soil electrical conductivity means higher salt levels in the soil…..

Ozlu said, “I recommend gardeners use composted manure, especially in solid form, because manure is the fertilizer that supports better soil quality by improving almost all soil properties. Inorganic fertilizer is better in terms of electrical conductivity, but it does not improve other soil properties and crop yields better than manure.”

Ekrem Ozlu, Sandeep Kumar. Response of Soil Organic Carbon, pH, Electrical Conductivity, and Water Stable Aggregates to Long-Term Annual Manure and Inorganic Fertilizer. Soil Science Society of America Journal, 2018; 82 (5): 1243 DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2018.02.0082

Coastal Pacific Oxygen Levels Now Plummet Once A Year, Creating Dead Zones, Likely Due to Climate Change

  • The hypoxia season hits Oregon, Washington and California waters in the summer and can last from a few of days to a couple of months. Some years it only affects a few square miles of ocean; other years it’s thousands of square miles.
  • Climate change, warming ocean and slowing ocean currents are likely behind this.

Kristian Foden-Venci  Read or listen to full story on NPR Weekend Edition

Scientists say West Coast waters now have a hypoxia season, or dead-zone season, just like the wildfire season. Hypoxia is a condition in which the ocean water close to the seafloor has such low levels of dissolved oxygen that the organisms living down there die.

Crabber David Bailey, who skippers the Morningstar II, is rattled by the news. He remembers a hypoxia event out of Newport, Oregon, about a decade ago. He says it shows up “like a flip of a switch.” “It shows up like a flip of a switch,” he says. “If there are crabs in the pot, they’re dead. Straight up,” Bailey says. And if you re-bait the pots, “when you go out the next time, they’re blanks, they’re absolutely empty. The crabs have left the area.”….

….Scientists say climate change is behind this. The ocean has been absorbing nearly all the rising heat from greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s projected to grow even warmer in coming decades. Other factors may be contributing too. Oregon State University oceanographer and co-chair of the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Jack Barth, thinks higher temperatures are also slowing ocean currents. If we could see under the waves, he says, there’d be a lot more concern….

Dry and increasingly warm start to autumn in California; Fire season still alive and the Blob returns to the No. Pacific

Weather/Climate Discussion by  

DRY AUTUMNS MORE COMMON….a growing body of scientific research suggests that dry autumns in California are becoming more common–a trend that will continue as the climate warms. Our recent research (summarized in a blog post earlier this year) suggests that this trend is now detectable in recent observations–especially in Southern California. It does appear that 2018 will likely end up being another data point that adds to the existing evidence regarding increasingly dry autumns in California.

FIRE WEATHER INTO NOVEMBER…Given that little rainfall is expected in the coming days–and that moderate offshore winds, along with warming temperatures, are expected–a renewed wave of wildfire activity could still occur well into November just about anywhere in the state (though climatology would favor the southern half).

RETURN OF THE BLOB…There has been a fair bit of buzz regarding the “return of The Blob”–a region of anomalously warm water in the far northern Pacific (mostly in the Gulf of Alaska). As as been the subject of some of my scientific research (and as I’ve summarized in past blog posts), the consequences for California weather are perhaps different from what a lot of folks might assume. While it’s true that relative ocean warmth in that region and anomalously persistent/strong atmospheric high pressure in the air above “The Blob” do tend to coincide in space and time, what is less clear is the degree to which the warm ocean actually causes  high pressure ridging above. In fact, there’s a fair bit of evidence that the causality is reversed–that the persistent atmospheric high pressure develops first, then warms the ocean below due to a lack of storm-generated winds and subsequent upwelling of cooler water from beneath. But there is also some evidence that “The Blob,” once established, may indeed start to influence the longevity of the ridge above–perhaps resulting in a self-reinforcing feedback loop to some degree. If you’re interested in the details, I’d strongly suggest checking out my earlier blog post on this topic….



A Cud Above: Cattle grazing helps endangered wildlife on public lands

  • “Keeping the grass short controls non-native grasses and increases germination for native vernal pool plants like the endangered Contra Costa goldfield,” said wildlife refuge specialist Ivette Loredo, who manages the Warm Springs unit for the Service.

by Doug Cordell, USFWS Read full story here (June 2018)

…Through a public-private agreement, the ranchers graze their cattle on a 719-acre vernal pool grassland at the Warm Springs unit of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Fremont, California.

With this pact, they’re keeping alive a ranching and land stewardship heritage spanning four generations. The grazing, in turn, offers a host of benefits for endangered species at the seasonal pond.

…Grazing also benefits other wildlife. For endangered vernal pool tadpole shrimp and threatened California tiger salamanders, it reduces non-native grasses that suck up water and shorten the seasonal lifespan of pool breeding habitats. For burrowing owls, a species of special concern in the state of California, and ground squirrels, which dig burrows used by the owls and salamanders, grazing helps them detect predators like foxes and hawks.

The refuge maintains several small, ungrazed “exclosures” — areas where cattle are not allowed — as a yardstick for comparison with the grazed area. Loredo often leads tours of the site, using the exclosures as a teaching tool….

Male humpback whales change their songs when human noise is present

  • Ship noise seems to inhibit humpback whale singing

PLOS ONE Read full ScienceDaily article here

Male humpback whales reduce or cease their songs in reaction to human-generated shipping noise, according to a new study.

Increasing human shipping activity is causing a rise in low-frequency ocean noise. Baleen whales use low-frequency sound to communicate, so this human-made noise could affect their singing behavior. The authors of this study studied the effects of a passenger-cargo ship’s noise on the songs of male humpback whales living around the Ogasawara Islands in Japan. They used two underwater recorders to capture whalesong and locations of animals between February and May 2017, and examined the effect on humpback singing of the noise of the passing ship, the only large boat travelling in this remote area.

The authors found that fewer male humpbacks sang in the area within 500m of the shipping lane than elsewhere. After the ship passed by, whales within around 1200m tended to temporarily reduce singing or stop singing altogether, though they did not show other adaptations such as changing the frequency of their songs. Most of those whales who stopped singing did not resume their songs until at least 30 minutes after the ship had passed by….

Koki Tsujii, Tomonari Akamatsu, Ryosuke Okamoto, Kyoichi Mori, Yoko Mitani, Naoya Umeda. Change in singing behavior of humpback whales caused by shipping noise. PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (10): e0204112 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0204112

How the Farm Bureau’s Climate Agenda Is Failing Its Farmers

  • That agenda has left farmers ill-prepared to cope with effects of climate change—droughts, heat and storms—while neglecting a key climate solution.

By Georgina Gustin, Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr. Read full Inside Climate News article here

….The Farm Bureau is among the most potent political forces in Washington, skillfully parlaying the American farmer into an enduring influence machine. Its agenda encompasses taxes and trade, health insurance and school lunches. The group’s lobbying also touches many environmental issues: water pollution, fracking, biofuels and biodiversity. Conservative to the core, it mirrors the … administration’s ideology almost perfectly.  Nowhere do their agendas align more completely—and with more profound consequences—than on the challenge of climate change.

Both oppose any binding international, federal or local action that would regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases, or impose a market price or tax on them. Both refuse to embrace the core tenets of climate science.

“They’re like the NRA,” said Andrew Holland, who worked for former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Like the gun lobby, the Farm Bureau derives its clout from member activism. “They get their members ginned up about something and then they call the Hill.”

For decades, the Farm Bureau has derailed climate action, deploying its political apparatus and 6 million members in a forceful alliance with conservative groups and the fossil fuel industry.

It calls itself the “voice” of American agriculture, but the Farm Bureau has left its own members ill-prepared to cope with intensifying droughts, rain, heat and storms that threaten their livelihoods. The group’s agenda has blocked farmers’ opportunity to benefit from the agricultural transformation the climate crisis demands.

In this series of articles, InsideClimate News explores how the farm lobby has wielded its influence to undermine climate treaties and regulations. In tandem with fossil fuel allies, it sowed uncertainty and denial about the causes of global warming and the urgency to bring it under control. Embracing taxpayer-funded subsidies to insure farmers against the mounting risks, it has nurtured an unsustainable consolidation of agriculture that discourages climate-friendly farming…..

Graphic: The Farm Bureau's Decades of Climate Policy Opposition

Canada adopts carbon fee and dividend to rein in climate change

  • Beginning in 2019, Canada’s federal policy will put a rising fee on carbon emissions and return the revenue directly to Canadians.
  • The policy applies a tax on carbon starting at $20 per ton in 2019, rising $10 per ton annually until it reaches $50 per ton in 2022.
  • Residents and businesses in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, the four provinces subject to the federal tax, will receive rebate checks that will exceed the amount of the carbon tax paid by the average family.

Read full Citizen’s Climate Lobby article here

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Carbon fee and dividend, the solution to tackle climate change proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, has emerged as the default policy in Canada to price carbon and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming. The federal policy is a backstop to cover the four provinces that have not initiated their own carbon-pricing policies. Nearly half of Canadians live in these provinces.

….Trudeau summed up the problem simply in today’s announcement: “It is free to pollute, so we have too much pollution.” He presented the solution simply too, saying, “Starting next year, it will no longer be free to pollute anywhere in Canada. We are going to place a price on the pollution that causes climate change from coast to coast to coast. We’re also going to help Canadians adjust to this new reality.”

He stated that a family of four would receive $307 with their tax return this spring. That will more than double to $718 by 2022. Using one province as an example, Trudeau said, “Eight in 10 Ontario families will get back more than they pay.” The policy also includes extra support for small, rural and remote Canadian communities. Trudeau emphasized that “every nickel” of the carbon pricing revenue would be returned to Canadians…..