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ArcticSea Ice Loss And Methane

 

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EU President Jose Barroso Speaks Passionately About Why Britain Is Important To The EU And, Crucially, Vice Versa

Jose Barroso EU President at Chatham House

 

This morning the outgoing EU President spoke at Chatham House in London explaining how much of the national uncertainty about Britain’s membership to the EU, is a natural response to having an interest in one’s own wellbeing, when represented beyond our island borders. He also highlighted that much of the rhetoric in politics that surrounds Britain’s position, ignores some vital details that voters should understand better. These include the fact that over 50% of Britain’s trade is with EU member states. Leaving the EU Trade block would make this trade more difficult.

 

He also states that those saying we should vote to leave have not as yet presented an economic model that Britain could adopt in moving forward. Without a viable alternative, Britain could find itself an outsider on the world stage. The EU represents 500million people with a voice in the world that is strengthened by it size. Breaking off into a smaller group would make us vulnerable and probably much more under the thumb of corporate demands, which more often than not, run counter to the wellbeing of citizens. Even on this last point, many corporations taking advantage of the UK’s favourable taxation laws, and proximity to Europe, have stated that should we vote to leave the European Union, they would themselves leave the UK, relocating to places such as Frankfurt.

 

Below are some of the points made by Barroso in this mornings session including answers to some insightful questions after his speech.

 

 - Britain has played a leading role in the European debate on climate change. Britain is also at the forefront of a push to set a target of 40% emissions reductions by 2030 (to be decided this Friday).

 

Greater integration is the route to solving long-term issues including jobs, industry, climate change and peace. It is only in a larger trading block that individual states can maximise their power to influence world events.

 

Over half of Britain’s trade is with EU member states, representing a market of 500 million people.

 

Maintaining our own identities is important; Barroso prefer’s a couple of glasses of red wine to beer, while on the campaign trail.

 

Too much focus on the spending figures with very little analysis of the quality of the spending of EU budgets. These include investing in research into new technologies and into the future for young people.

 

House of Lords represents one of the best analytical body’s there is, for holding legislation to account.

 

Barroso asks: What is the Euro sceptic’s economic model? How can Britain have the advantage of the single market whilst existing outside of it?

 

Large international businesses have stressed that they will leave Britain if there is an opt out, relocating to places like Frankfurt.

 

Enlargement of the EU is one of Europe’s greatest achievements ever. Now we are in a period of enlargement fatigue. The door is still open to the Balkan States, but it is unlikely there will be any enlargement for five years.

 

The EU has been a provider of stability when one considers regions including Ukraine. Serbia and Montenegro (swing states) will probably join.

 

Discussing immigration: If we have freedom of trade, joint defence and agricultural treaties, then we must have a “freedom of movement” principal. Of course the European Commission is aware of the issues of abuses of welfare systems. It is a discussion that has to be had by member governments.

 

1.4million Brits live in Europe (2.3% of the population), except in winter when the figure grows to 2million (3%).

 

If you restrict Freedom of Movement by wealth then you create first and second class citizens: “No… no!”.

 

Is Barroso an unelected Bureaucrat as claimed by British Conservative Party Chairman? He has been elected by his own country to positions such as Finance Minister and Prime Minister. He was elected by the European representatives of the member states who were themselves elected by their own people. The system is complex and often inefficient but they are working to make it less intrusive and more accountable.

 

“Britain has a lot of friends in Europe but please… keep them!”

 

On the issue of recognising Palestine as an independent state: This is an issue for individual member states and currently will remain so. Each state has a right to agree their own position.

 

Can Turkey ever become a member of the EU? The door is open but after a decade of talks, there have been developments that worry EU governments.

 

“The European Commission is not the most popular, but it is indispensable!”

 

Notes from José Manuel Barroso, Speaking at Chatham House, London 20th October 2014

 

by Nick Breeze

Russian Scientists Excluded From Presenting Important Research As NASA Goddard Director Tries To Discredit Observational Scientific Research

Following on from my recent post regarding the attempt by Dr Gavin Schmidt to rubbish the research of Russian scientists, led by Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov, it now emerges that the latter were not even invited to the high profile meeting at the Royal Society.

 

The event, held a fortnight ago, is still causing controversy beyond the negative tweeting by NASA Goddard Director, Dr Gavin Schmidt. Schmidt aimed his presentation at discrediting the Russian’s work, using theoretical models, without expertise in methane, or credible data. The end result is that the Russian team have composed a letter to Royal Society President, Sir Paul Nurse, asking for an opportunity to present their findings, including contributions from over 30 scientists working in the region for over 20 years.

 

One of the longstanding major triumphs of the scientific community has been a commitment to apolitical analysis of important research. We all know there are geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, but are these now making an unwelcome entree into an area that could pose enormous risk for humanity at large?

 

The risk of large-scale releases of the deadly greenhouse gas, methane, from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) may be a subject of debate in the scientific community, but to purposefully exclude one side of the debate and openly denounce their findings is not just immoral, it is reckless.

 

The letter, signed by Semiletov and Shakhova on behalf of more than 30 scientists, does state to the Royal Society President that the evidence shown by Dr Schmidt (based on work by Dr David Archer) is purely theoretical and that, despite both being very skilled climate modellers, neither has expertise in methane or the area in question, The East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

 

Whilst the meeting was in process, an expedition in the ESAS was in progress, with over 80 Russian and Swedish scientists. So why would such high profile Western scientists try to discredit a large and growing body of research? It is a hard question to answer, but the intent is certainly evident.

 

It is a matter for all of our concern if there is a posed risk of environmental devastation emanating from any region of the world. The Earth system does not acknowledge sovereignty or nationalist interests. International collaboration and respect are vital if we are to understand the changes that are going on as a result of man made climate change. The Earth is heating up and many feedbacks from the heating, such as methane releases, are not fully understood but are known to have caused enormous changes in the global climate.

 

The division between the climate modelling camp and the scientists carrying out observational research is completely nonsensical. It seems perfectly logical that the data collected by one group should be used by the other in order to make the models more accurate. If climate models have no basis in reality, then how can we trust their reliability?

 

The disdain shown by Dr Schmidt for his international colleagues should now be put aside and the doors of the Royal Society opened to allow the Russian team to present their findings. It is in all of our interests that this takes place, so, Sir Paul, over to you…

 

Author: Nick Breeze

 

 

Letter From Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov to Sir Paul Nurse:

 

October 4th, 2014
By mail and email

 

Dear Sir Paul Nurse,

 

We are pleased that the Royal Society recognizes the value of Arctic science and hosted an important scientific meeting last week, organised by Dr D. Feltham, Dr S. Bacon, Dr M. Brandon, and Professor Emeritus J. Hunt (https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/arctic-sea-ice/).  

 

Our colleagues and we have been studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) for >20 years and have detailed observational knowledge of changes occurring in this region, as documented by publications in leading journals such as Science, Nature, and Nature Geosciences.  During these years, we performed >20 all-seasonal expeditions that allowed us to accumulate a large and comprehensive data set consisting of hydrological, biogeochemical, and geophysical data and providing a quality of coverage that is hard to achieve, even in more accessible areas of the World Ocean.

 

To date, we are the only scientists to have long-term observational data on methane in the ESAS.  Despite peculiarities in regulation that limit access of foreign scientists to the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the ESAS is located, over the years we have welcomed scientists from Sweden, the USA, The Netherlands, the UK, and other countries to work alongside us. A large international expedition performed in 2008 (ISSS-2008) was recognized as the best biogeochemical study of the IPY (2007-2008). The knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout these years of work laid the basis for an extensive Russian-Swedish expedition onboard I/B ODEN (SWERUS-3) that allowed > 80 scientists from all over the world to collect more data from this unique area.  The expedition was successfully concluded just a few days ago.

 

To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting.  Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area. Let us recall that your motto “Nullus in verba” was chosen by the founders of the Royal Society to express their resistance to the domination of authority; the principle so expressed requires all claims to be supported by facts that have been established by experiment. In our opinion, not only the words but also the actions of the organizers deliberately betrayed the principles of the Royal Society as expressed by the words “Nullus in verba”.

 

In addition, we would like to highlight the Anglo-American bias in the speaker list.  It is worrisome that Russian scientific knowledge was missing, and therefore marginalized, despite a long history of outstanding Russian contributions to Arctic science. Being Russian scientists, we

believe that prejudice against Russian science is currently growing due to political disagreements with the actions of the Russian government.  This restricts our access to international scientific journals, which have become exceptionally demanding when it comes to publication of our work compared to the work of others on similar topics. We realize that the results of our work may interfere with the crucial interests of some powerful agencies and institutions; however, we believe that it was not the intent of the Royal Society to allow political considerations to override scientific integrity.  

 

We understand that there can be scientific debate on this crucial topic as it relates to climate. However, it is biased to present only one side of the debate, the side based on theoretical assumptions and modelling. In our opinion, it was unfair to prevent us from presenting our more-than-decadal data, given that >200 scientists were invited to participate in debates. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Royal Society proceedings from this scientific meeting will be unbalanced to an unacceptable degree (which is what has happened on social media).

Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.


Sincerely,
On behalf of >30 scientists,


Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov

 

 

 

Tweeting On Thin Ice - Reflecting On The Arctic Sea Ice Meeting At The Royal Society

By Nick Breeze

When it comes to changes in the global climate, one of the most visible and disturbing sites is the data that shows the diminishing state of sea ice in the Arctic region. It is both dramatic and symbolic, with known and unknown consequences. As someone who has been following the scientific literature on this for a few years now, I cannot help feeling that our collective societies, and especially those with real power, will rue the days they turned their backs on this dynamic and important component of our climate.

With this in mind, I was positively excited to attend the two day event at the Royal Society on the 22nd and 23rd of September, titled, ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts’. The list of scientists attending read like a dream team of big brains on Arctic sea ice matters:

Dr Julienne Stroeve, University of Colorado, USA; Reduction of summer sea ice extent
Professor Mark Serreze, National Snow and Ice Center, USA; Changes in Arctic sea ice and the polar atmosphere
Professor Peter Wadhams, University of Cambridge, UK; Sea ice thickness from submarines
Professor Ronald Kwok, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CALTECH, USA; Satellite observations of sea ice thickness
Dr Andrey Proshuntinsky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA; Arctic circulation regimes
Dr Helene Hewitt, Met Office Hadley Centre, UK; Using models to understand and predict Arctic Sea Ice
Professor John Turner, British Antarctic Survey, UK; Why is sea ice increasing in the Southern Ocean?
Dr Marika Holland, National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA; The capabilities and limitations of Arctic sea ice ocean climate models
Professor Daniel Feltham, University of Reading, UK; Sea ice mechanics and the next generation of sea ice physics
Dr Dirk Notz, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany; Processes controlling the Arctic sea ice mass balance
Professor Don Perovich, Dartmouth College, USA; Field studies of sea ice melt
Professor Grae Worster, University of Cambridge, UK; Sea ice thermodynamics and brine drainage
Dr Gavin Schmidt, NASA, USA, Atmospheric composition and radiative impacts of Arctic sea ice loss
Professor Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University, USA, The impact of Arctic sea ice loss on extreme weather
Dr Sheldon Bacon, National Oceanography Centre, UK, The Arctic Ocean freshwater budget and implications for climate

One of the most striking debates in the discussion of Arctic sea ice is the rate of loss and risk of feedbacks, such as large-scale methane release. The large-scale methane releases are a feature of the Earth’s history, where huge amounts of this deadly gas are released at a rate where they cannot be broken down, and therefore overwhelm the atmosphere. This heating effect, in turn, creates amplified heating making it difficult for life to survive. It is estimated that when the last big methane burst occurred, millions of years ago, 90% of life on Earth died and the recovery rate for biodiversity was millions of years more.

Russian scientist’s, Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semilitov have been conducting annual trips to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf for over ten years and are reporting an increased destabilisation of the permafrost on the shallow Arctic ocean floor in the region. The loss of ice has meant that significant heating has occurred this sensitive region, causing the frozen seabed to rise from -7 degrees centigrade to between -1C and +3C. Obviously, above zero the seabed changes state from ice to water and releases methane from the rotting organic debris that has been frozen for thousands, or millions of years.

More importantly this permafrost layer acts as a seal over an enormous store of methane hydrates conservatively estimated to be around 1500 gigatonnes. To put this in perspective, there is currently about 5.5 gigatonnes of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere. A release of a small percentage of 50 gigatonnes has been cited as a risk. Wadhams and his colleagues used the Stern model to calculate that such a release would have the equivalent economic value of $50 trillion USD (roughly the same as global GDP). That is obviously much more than we could ever afford and the world, post-release, would look vastly different, with hardly any humans, or other species, remaining compared to what we see today.

Professor Wadhams gave his talk at the Royal Society focusing on the behaviour of sea ice, using submarine data to back up previous estimates of sea ice decline in volume over multi decades. As these are observations, it is not really something that can be contested. Wadhams has been going on trips to the Arctic aboard military submarines for many years, collecting data to feed into the models, calculating volume in addition to the ice area (extent) shown from the satellites. This has shown a dramatic drop in sea-ice volume by 40% since the late 1970’s. The implications are that we are risking setting off a feedback process of methane release that could cause a huge boost to global warming. That is the view from those collecting data from the region.

On the other side of the debate stands the modellers. David Archer (not present at the event) is referred to as the “go to man” on Arctic methane. Archer says that no risk is posed from methane releases from Arctic shelves such as the one in Eastern Siberia. To represent this view at the Royal Society meeting was Dr Gavin Schmidt, the newly positioned Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute For Space Studies. Dr. Schmidt presented his modelling data, positing that there is no evidence such a risk exists. This is as a result of his examination of the data record of the Holocene period; a period of climate stability in which we and many other species have flourished. There are other scientists who look at our unprecedented climate situation and conclude that this this is the beginning of the “Anthropocene”; a period of climate driven by human activity.

Schmidt does acknowledge there was a huge methane release way back in the geological record but states that the world was a very different place then and we cannot draw conclusions from it. Schmidt’s view is based much more on modelling data and theory, which is viewed with suspicion by some, due to the inability of the models to keep pace in real-time of the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice. The argument goes that if you cannot get the model to reproduce what is happening today, how can you draw conclusions of what the sea ice will do in 10, 20 or 100 years? All scientists use models and they are very useful in looking at climate and their results are always getting better, as both the technological capacity, and the scientists understanding of Earth system processes gets better.

Dr Schmidt’s presentation was especially crafted to dispel the idea of a risk from methane releases and to directly discredit the work of Shakhova et al. Even when he mentioned the word methane he did so encouraging the audience to make horror noises. This seems to me a thoughtless act, considering people are risking their lives to collect the data on the subject. I interviewed Shakhova in June and she gave examples of other expeditions that have had fatal outcomes for those involved. Also, considering Professor Wadhams was sat in the audience and held a different view, it seemed divisive and childish. Schmidt presented in his summary that there was no risk of a methane “bomb”, or other large-scale multi gigatonne release from hydrate stores in the Arctic.

Although he didn’t explicitly say it, the implication was that the work of those saying “there is a risk” is rubbish. He showed models developed by Archer to prove it. However, I failed to draw a similar conclusion as Schmidt, because the scientists telling us there IS an issue, are the only ones actually visiting the region and collecting data. Shakhova said in June, when we spoke, that a decade ago there were hardly no bubbles coming out and the ice pack on top was frozen solid. They could drive heavy vehicles out on the ice. Due to global warming, it has vanished and now the dark open water is absorbing the suns heat energy and the waves that occur during intensifying storms (a new phenomenon for the East Siberian Shelf) are transporting this heat down to the seabed, where the melting occurs. Thus their observations show plumes of methane pouring off the seabed, from melting permafrost and over a kilometre wide.

The opposing views portended to set up a scenario for great discussion and perhaps, potentially, collaboration on how scientists could move forward to get to the bottom of what is happening in the volatile polar region. However, what really transpired was that Dr Schmidt was not that interested in any serious consideration of views outside those of his colleagues and had come here to only try and discredit what he might call “opponents”. Even when Professor Wadhams asked him a serious question at the end of his presentation, about what sea water temperature data is feeding Archer’s model (as it was being shown as evidence), he simply replied that “it’s [the answer] in the paper”. Conversely, when Wadhams was on the stage Schmidt only raised his hand to ask “Is any of this based on Physics?” to which Wadhams replied “no” referring to the fact that it is collected observational data.

Although having two opposing camps adds a bit of flavour to the proceedings, what soured the taste afterwards was Schmidt’s insulting tweeting during Wadhams presentation. Probably aware that an older professor is not so likely to be microblogging during a serious conference on his main subject of expertise, Schmidt released the following tweets in reference to him:


"Some anticipation for Peter Wadhams. Audience members already crying" "Wadhams still using graphs with ridiculous projections with no basis in physics". "Wadhams now onto methane pulse of 50 GT. But no better justified than his previous statements" "Wadhams clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations.”

There is no doubt that such “tweets” must resonate with his own choir of over 5800 followers on Twitter but does it add anything whatsoever to the meeting in the room? In terms of credibility alone, it should be highlighted that Wadhams has been studying the sea ice for over 40years and published over 300 papers on the subject. He has made countless voyages to both polar regions and even Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher was heard to shout out in Downing Street, “Dennis… The ICE MAN is here!”, having previously telephoned him during an expedition to the Antarctic ahead of a conference in the 1980’s. Even if Professor Wadhams was not a person of such high stature, Dr Schmidt’s treatment of him does sully a framework for finding answers to serious questions that science has always been so good at. It undermines the purpose of the meeting hosted by the Royal Society and also the reputation of his current position at Goddard (a position held by one of the most excellent and modest of climate experts we have seen, James Hansen, whom I was fortunate to meet and interview in 2012).

To conclude, the opportunity to discuss in depth the opposing views was squandered in place of a shallow and degrading barrage of Tweets. These were designed to undermine and dismiss a growing field of research that is being published around the world by many institutions such as the United Nations Environment Programme, as well the peer reviewed literature. Instead of an arena of informed and intellectual discussion, this behaviour is more akin to playground politics blended with egotistical nastiness.

On completely different level altogether, one major triumph of the event was the presentation given by Professor Jennifer Francis from Rutgers University, USA, titled, ‘The impact of Arctic sea ice loss on extreme weather’. Francis has been regularly cited by the mainstream media in recent months when we have experienced extreme weather events.  Her teams work has produced evidence linking the decline in Arctic sea ice to the changes in the oscillation of the jet stream, that delivers our weather and is now being affected by manmade climate change. Such work has been picked up by President Obama’s Chief science advisor, Dr John Holdren who is thus briefing the President. I was lucky enough to catch up with Professor Francis later in the week and conduct an interview. We’ll be posting this very shortly.


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