For two decades, scientists have kept a close watch on a vast, icebound corner of West Antarctica that is undergoing a historic thaw.
Climate experts have predicted that, centuries from now, the region’s mile-thick ice sheet could collapse and raise sea levels as much as 11 feet.
Now, new evidence is causing concern that the collapse could happen faster than anyone thought. New scientific studies this week have shed light on the speed and the mechanics of West Antarctic melting, documenting an acceleration that, if it continues, could have major effects on coastal cities worldwide.
Twin papers this week show that the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica is increasing — with the acceleration particularly pronounced in the past decade — and also why this is happening: Warmer ocean waters are pushing up from below and bathing the base of the ice sheet.
The findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the effects of climate change are outpacing scientific predictions, driven in part, scientists say, by soaring levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It often has been speculated that West Antarctica may be the most unstable of the world’s great ice sheets, a group that also includes the still-larger Greenland and the massive East Antarctica.
And research published in May suggested that for the oceanfront glaciers of West Antarctica, held in place by moorings at the seafloor, a point of no return already may have been reached.
A new study by researchers at NASA and the University of California at Irvine finds a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic ice sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea. (NASA)
Now, researchers at the University of California at Irvine, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and three other institutions have reconciled several measuring methods, including those based on satellite and radar measurements, to determine just how much ice mass West Antarctica has lost to the oceans in the past two decades.
The researchers found that the ice sheet contributed about 4.5 millimeters, or 0.18 inches, to global sea-level rise from 1992 to 2013, with more than 70 percent of the loss occurring in the second half of that time period — meaning the rate of loss is accelerating.
“For long-term stability and small sea-level rise, accelerating mass loss is not reassuring,” said Pennsylvania State University glaciologist Richard Alley, commenting on the paper, which was published Tuesday in Geophysical Research Letters.
A second study, published Thursday in the journal Science, explains why this is occurring. It turns out that in the Amundsen Sea off the West Antarctica glaciers, warmer deep ocean water is “shoaling,” or rising from below, and lapping at the base of the glaciers.
The surface ocean waters around Antarctica are generally quite cold because of snow and runoff from the glaciers, but these warmer waters are managing to push up to the ice shelf.
“We now show that the ocean is the major contributor of heat” to West Antarctica, said lead study author and oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko of the University of East Anglia in Britain.
“And it’s not just the shelf itself — it’s something that happens offshore in the global ocean.”
This could ultimately prove to be one of the most important geophysical processes on the planet, for the simple reason that the ice sheet of West Antarctica would, if it collapsed entirely, contribute about 3.3 meters, or nearly 11 feet, to global sea-level rise, Alley said.
“There are strong reasons to believe that if the thinning goes too far, it might cross a threshold and then accelerate much more rapidly,” he said.
The great ice sheets of the world, like West Antarctica, are so massive that, at present, they exert a gravitational pull on the surrounding ocean, which slopes upward toward them.
However, the loss of West Antarctica would lead to less gravitational pull and more water spreading out across the ocean — a secondary effect that would further contribute to sea-level rise worldwide. And the Northern Hemisphere — including the United States, a nation that has contributed more than most to the current global-warming trend — could get a bit extra, Alley said.
The research is just the latest suggestion of the possibly worsening effects of climate change. On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Organization said that 2014 is on track to be one of the warmest years — and perhaps the warmest — on record.
Ocean surface temperatures have been unusually warm, particularly in a year in which the El Niño weather phenomenon did not materialize.
Under The Antarctic Ice - Documentary
The findings from West Antarctica could call into question one principal finding from the latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), considered to be the world authority on global warming. In 2013, the panel put its high-end projection for likely global sea-level rise, by the year 2100, at a little more than three feet.
But the researchers studying West Antarctica are not so sure. “The upper bound defined by the IPCC, they may underestimate some of the components, particularly the ice sheets,” said UC-Irvine’s Isabella Velicogna, an author of the paper estimating the rate of ice loss from West Antarctica’s glaciers.
So how fast could the loss of West Antarctica unfold? Velicogna’s co-author, Eric Rignot of UC-Irvine, suggested that in his view, within 100 to 200 years, one-third of West Antarctica could be gone.
Rignot noted that the scientific community “still balks at this” — particularly the 100-year projection — but said he thinks observational studies are showing that ice sheets can melt at a faster pace than model-based projections take into account.
The consequences of such an amount of sea-level rise for the United States — or for any other coastal region — are staggering to contemplate.
Benjamin Strauss of Climate Central, whose Surging Seas project tracks the possible effects of sea-level rise and who was not involved in either study, said he estimates that “12.8 million Americans live on land less than 10 feet above their local high-tide line.” Of course, by the time West Antarctica may have begun contributing more significantly to sea-level rise, these numbers will presumably have increased.
Strauss also estimated that $2.4 trillion worth of property is occupying this land (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). The cities that would be most affected include Miami, New Orleans and New York.
The amount of sea-level rise contemplated here is quite similar to the storm surge seen in New York during Hurricane Sandy — a surge of 9.4 feet over the normal tide level was recorded at the Battery — only it would be permanent.
Other scientists urged caution in interpreting the findings, saying it is not clear whether the recent accelerated melting is an anomaly or a persistent phenomenon that will continue into the future. Ocean circulation patterns in the south polar region are still not fully understood, and it is possible that the migration of warmer water into the Amundsen Sea is unrelated to the overall climate warming trend, said Olga Sergienko, a glaciologist at Princeton University’s Cooperative Institute for Climate Science who was not involved in the studies.
“This represents only about 20 years of observation, and on the time scale of ice sheets that’s just a blink,” said Sergienko, who also is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.
Understanding the role ocean currents play is important because air temperatures in this region of Antarctica are too low to contribute significantly to the loss of surface ice, said Michael Oppenheimer, a geosciences professor at Princeton who was not part of the new studies.
But he added that the rate of melting in the future depends on complex interactions that require additional study to fully comprehend.
“The warm water appears to be gradually melting away the ice shelves and interacting with ice on land,” Oppenheimer said.
“One of the things we don’t know is how much of that warm water is sitting there because of global warming and how much is sitting there because of some natural process.
“It is suspicious,” he added, “that we’re seeing this acceleration at the same time that the world is warming.”
The Antarctic, isolated from Earth’s other land masses and influenced by patterns of wind and ocean circulation that are unique to the South Pole, has been slower to show signs of warming than other parts of the planet.
Many climate-change skeptics have noted that winter sea ice around the continent has expanded and thickened in recent seasons, even as the Arctic continues to lose ice cover.
But climate scientists say seasonal changes in Antarctica sea ice do not contradict the overall warming pattern seen in the rest of the world.
“The land ice is clearly losing mass,” Oppenheimer said
“Counterintuitively, as ice is being lost from Antarctica in various places, there is additional fresh water coming to the surface of the ocean. And fresher surface water freezes more easily.”
Next December, 196 nations will meet in Paris to agree a course of action to respond to climate change.
They will do so under the auspices of the UN framework convention on climate change.
This is an international treaty negotiated at the Earth summit in Rio in 1992 with the objective to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.
The discussions in Paris in 2015 will be informed by the latest climate science.
In our play 2071, which recently completed its inaugural run at the Royal Court theatre in London, directed by Katie Mitchell, we explore the science, its implications and the options before us.
A key aim is to leave the audience better placed to participate in the public discourse, in which we all need to play a part.
Climate change is a controversial subject that can raise strong emotions.
We are all susceptible to being less open-minded and rational about it than we may appreciate.
The climate system is very complex, yet its discussion is often oversimplified.
There are gaps in our knowledge, and many scientific uncertainties, some of which are fundamentally unknowable.
This makes it extremely difficult to predict precisely what the future holds and to determine exactly what actions, if any, to take.
In addition there are economic considerations, political implications and ethical questions that further complicate the way forward.
In 2071 we describe how satellites allow us to probe and map our planet’s key components – atmosphere, oceans, ice, and land – in unprecedented ways.
By using computer models to bring together the space data with a myriad measurements made in situ, and by combining these with our understanding of underlying physical laws, it is possible to begin to make sense of what is observed.
This provides a grand perspective of the Earth’s system as a whole, of its component parts and the interconnections between them.
The system behaves in complex and often counterintuitive ways.
But the fundamental principles of it are quite simple: its component parts interact with each other such that, over time, the amount of energy leaving the planet is equal to the amount entering it from the Sun.
The interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the ice on land and sea drive the natural variability of the climate.
The system is very responsive.
Even a small change in one component can trigger a chain of consequences in the other parts.
When such changes alter the energy balance, the effects are felt throughout the entire system, while it adjusts to reach a new balance.
A chunk of ice breaks off from the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina. Photograph: Jakub Polomski / Jakub Polomski / Barcroft Media
Since the majority of inbound solar energy is absorbed by the oceans, which cover 70% of the planet’s surface and are dark, any imbalance should be most readily observable there.
Sea levels rise as water temperature increases, acting as a global thermometer.
By combining data gleaned from beach structures and archaeological data, we know that during the latter part of the Holocene, the unusually stable climatic period the planet has undergone since the end of the last Ice Age, sea-level changes did not exceed 0.2mm per year.
Information from tide gauges, and more recently, satellite radars, show that in the late 19th century, sea levels began to rise.
Over the 20th century the rate of rise averaged 1.8mm per year.
Over the last two decades, the rate has further increased to 3.3mm per year.
This may not seem much, but it is geologically significant. The current rate is approaching the 10mm per year which occurred during the transition from the last Ice Age to the current warm interglacial, a major climatic shift.
And it is occurring during the warm interglacial, at a time unrelated to the natural ice age cycle.
In 1978 John Mercer, a US glaciologist, described how, in a warming world, a successive collapse of ice shelves extending down the Antarctic Peninsula might occur.
He suggested that this would be a warning sign of a more significant sequence of events to come.
The Antarctic Peninsula connects to an area of the Antarctic called West Antarctica, where the massive ice sheet sits on bedrock that is up to 2km below sea level.
Mercer’s concern was that if the successive collapse reached this far, the pressure of the warmer water at depth would lift the ice sheet, causing water to penetrate deeper and deeper below the ice, reducing friction between the ice and rock, leading to an unstoppable collapse.
This would result in a rise in sea levels over time of many metres, as the total volume of ice in West Antarctica is equivalent to a six-metre rise.
Since the 1990s, a successive series of ice shelf collapses has occurred along the peninsula, and parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are now accelerating into the ocean.
And in the northern hemisphere, the satellite and surface data show that the loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet increased by 600% over a decade following the 1990s.
It is estimated that, at present, the melting of ice sheets and glaciers contributes to about half of the observed sea level rise.
Apart from a small contribution from human use of aquifers, the rest of the sea level rise is due to thermal expansion – the oceans are warming.
The greenhouse effect
The atmospheric trace gases – water vapour, methane and carbon dioxide – provide an explanation of the planetary energy imbalance.
These gases are present in relatively small quantities in our atmosphere, but they have a significant impact on the temperature of the planet since they obstruct the loss of heat from the surface as it passes upwards.
This effect, known as the greenhouse effect, causes the Earth’s surface to have an average temperature of 15C.
Without it, the surface would be 15C below freezing.
Ice cores drilled from ice sheets and glaciers in the Antarctic and Greenlandprovide a means of measuring past changes in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.
Each year the snowfall creates a layer that compacts to ice and traps bubbles of the contemporary air.
The deepest ice cores extracted from the Antarctic are more than 3km long and contain a record stretching back 800,000 years.
By melting the ice and measuring the ratios of different atomic isotopes in the water, a history of global temperature can be derived.
The relationship between the trace gases and temperature can then be studied.
During each recent cold phase, when on average global temperatures have decreased by 5C, and vast ice sheets have built up over northern high latitudes, the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere dipped to about 180 parts per million.
In the warm phases it peaked at around 300 ppm. This year, the CO2concentration of the atmosphere passed 400 ppm.
The rise over the last century is already 100 ppm – the same as the natural change between an ice age and an interglacial warm period, but at a rate more than 100 times faster.
And it is in the “warm” direction of increased concentration not experienced by the planet at any point over the last 800,000 years based on the ice core data, and probably not over the two million years judging by the geological record.
This has occurred because the global carbon cycle has been disrupted.
The cycle consists of large annual exchanges between the carbon reservoirs of the atmosphere, the land biosphere, the lithosphere (the rocky surface layer of the planet) and the ocean.
The exchanges are much greater in magnitude than our own carbon emissions – but, prior to industrialisation, they were in balance.
However, in 1712, the invention of the Newcomen steam engine started a chain reaction of innovation, technology and science that spread across the globe.
This revolution built the modern world.
It was fuelled using cheap, accessible and convenient fossil energy.
This has led us to the point where we are currently burning 10,000 million tonnes of carbon per year – a figure that is increasing at a rate of 2% per year.
To date, we have burned an estimated 530,000 million tonnes of carbon.
A quarter of the resulting CO2 has been absorbed by vegetation on land, which has bloomed as a result, and just over a quarter by the ocean, which has become more acidic.
The remainder will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years because it takes that long for natural processes – mainly rock weathering – to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Consequently, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen by 40%.
The energy imbalance revealed by the ocean, confirmed by rising temperatures and loss of ice, and explained by the disrupted carbon cycle, is evidently being driven by us.
It is the unwitting result of our use of fossil fuels.
The evidence seems compelling. But since the implications are sufficiently profound, a deeper evaluation is merited.
This is the task given to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
It was set up in 1988 by the UN environment programme and the World Meteorological Organisation.
Its job is to provide a comprehensive summary of the scientific data to inform the policy decisions of the UN framework convention on climate change.
IPCC working group I reviews and assesses the physical science information relevant to human-induced climate change.
Its most recent report – the fifth – was released in September 2013.
It is arguably the most audited scientific document in history.
The work was led by 209 scientists, who are regarded as the world experts in their fields.
They were supported by more than 600 contributing authors from 32 countries and 50 review editors from 39 countries.
Of the tens of thousands of publications sifted more than 9,200 were cited.
The authors responded to 54,677 comments from 1,089 reviewers worldwide.
So what do they conclude?
The conclusions of the IPCC
Concerning the atmosphere, each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.
In the northern hemisphere the 30 years from 1983 to 2012 were likely to have been the warmest in the last 1,400 years.
The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature measurements show a warming of 0.8C from 1850 to 2012.
They note that despite the warming at and near the surface, the upper atmosphere has cooled, ruling out the Sun as the cause.
They report that the rates of loss of ice from the world’s glaciers and from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have all increased dramatically.
While glacier losses have increased globally by about 20%, the ice sheet losses increased by as much as 600% between the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Summer minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic decreased over the last 30 years between 9% and 14% per decade.
There is evidence that this level of ice retreat is unprecedented in the last 1,450 years.
By contrast, winter sea ice extent in the Antarctic has increased slightly, at a rate of about 1.5% per decade.
This appears to be driven by changes in the Southern Ocean winds, which have intensified in response to the planetary energy imbalance.
They report that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.
They confirm that the ocean has absorbed about 30% of the cumulative anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, causing it to become progressively more acidic.
More recently, the IPCC released its overall synthesis report.
This states: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and, since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, [and] sea level has risen.”
It observes that: “In recent decades, changes in the climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to the changing climate.”
On the causes of climate change, the IPCC says: “It is extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 [to] 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together.”
It continues: “The best estimate of human-induced contributions to warming is similar to the actual warming observed.” In other words, there is evidence that all the warming that has occurred since 1950 is due to human actions.
It concludes: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, which together with adaptation can limit climate change risks.”
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, summarised the working group I findings as follows: “Boil down the IPCC report and here’s what you find: climate change is real, it’s happening now, human beings are the cause of the transformation, and only action by human beings can save the world from its worst impacts.”
The cut-off date for published material considered by IPCC working group I was July 2013.
But there have been some important results since.
Evidence from the Argo floats, a system of 3,500 buoys deployed throughout the world’s oceans, shows that despite an 18-year pause in the rate of surface and atmospheric temperature rise, energy has continued to accumulate in the oceans unabated, with the prospect that some of it will be released to the atmosphere in the future.
New data from the CryoSat satellite show the recent rate of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica has doubled in three years.
Some experts have concluded that the loss of ice from the West Antarctic ice sheet is now irreversible and that this will raise sea level by 1 to 2 metres in as little as a few hundred years.
Based on a combination of scientific analysis, assessments of the impacts and related value judgments, the nations negotiating under the terms of the UN framework convention have set a limit beyond which climate change will be “dangerous”.
That limit is 2C above the pre-industrial average.
We are currently at 0.8C.
Two-thirds of that increase has occurred since 1980.
In order to stay below the 2C “guardrail”, human carbon emissions have to drop to 50% of the present level by 2050 and thereafter drop to zero.
This would mean leaving 75% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
They would become economically worthless.
The temperature at which the system will stabilise is determined by the total quantity of carbon we emit to the atmosphere, not the rate at which it’s emitted.
So reducing carbon emissions to zero will not lower temperature; it will just prevent the temperature rising beyond the 2C level.
Temperature will then remain at that level for a very long time because CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years.
This sets a limit on the total carbon that we can burn.
The IPCC calculates this to be about 800 gigatons of carbon.
They estimate that we have already burned 530 gigatons.
This leaves 270 gigatons for us to use.
At our current rate, which is 10 gigatons of carbon a year, we have 27 years left, after which time carbon emissions would need to cease.
Suppose we begin reducing our emissions next year and don’t exceed the overall 800 gigaton limit; then CO2 concentration will stabilise at 450 parts per million.
Temperature will take longer to stabilise because it responds to CO2 concentration – but it will eventually stabilise at 2C.
The oceans will continue to warm and the ice will continue to melt – so the sea level will continue to rise.
It will take hundreds of years but will eventually stabilise at a level, based on evidence from past warmings, about 2 to 3 metres higher than today.
If we leave it longer to start reducing emissions, we will have to reduce them more rapidly to avoid exceeding the overall 800 gigaton limit.
Calculations show that if we leave it until 2020 – only five years away – the subsequent reductions would be of the order of 6% per year to stay within the 2C limit. 6% may not sound much, but annual reductions of carbon emissions greater than 1% have happened only during economic recession or upheaval.
The UK conversion from coal to gas and the French conversion to nuclear in the 1970s and 80s achieved reductions of 1% per year.
A temporary 5% reduction was achieved in the Soviet Union when it collapsed. Japan recently achieved a 15% reduction when its nuclear power stations were shut down, and demand fell as a result of a national appeal, after the Fukushima disaster.
The 6% annual rate of reduction required is global.
We in the developed world have to reduce emissions even more rapidly to accommodate growth in the developing world.
To achieve the necessary reduction will require a collaborative effort on a global scale.
Time is running out
The aim of next December’s meeting in Paris is to forge a deal to put the world onto a path to a 2C maximum rise.
The new agreement aims to obtain credible and fair emission reductions and legally binding commitments from all countries – with the most advanced economies making the most ambitious commitments.
In the lead-up to Paris 2015, Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping have announced joint measures to fight climate change.
The US aims to reduce its carbon emissions to 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 – nearly doubling its previous commitments.
Despite not having signed up to Kyoto or Copenhagen, the US is already on track to cut its emissions by 17% between 2005 and 2020.
China, partly driven by serious air pollution problems, has committed to cutting the proportion of energy it generates from coal and has set up pilot carbon markets and low carbon zones.
It has set a date of 2030 for “peak” emissions and has pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy mix to around 20% by 2030, from less than 10% today.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has committed to expand solar energy to provide electricity to 300 million people who have no access to power at present.
The EU has agreed a package to achieve a 40% reduction in domestic emissions.
It aims to boost the use of renewable energy to 27% and to increase energy efficiency by at least 27%.
The UK Climate Change Act, passed in 2008 with cross-party support, is the world’s first long-term, legally binding, national framework for reducing emissions – setting five-year carbon budgets to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050.
Around the world, in recent years, almost 500 climate-related laws have been passed in 66 of the world’s largest emitting countries.
In 2005 the mayors of the worlds 40 largest “megacities” – including London – met and formed the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
They have taken 4,734 actions to tackle climate change, over three-quarters of which have been implemented.
Many individuals have taken measures to reduce their own climate-related impacts by making changes in their personal, professional and public lives – installing solar panels, increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, vehicles and appliances, using public transport and avoiding unnecessary travel, changing diet and by choosing to forgo activities that generate emissions.
They have encouraged changes to be made in their workplaces and written to their MPs.
They have sought to educate themselves about the issue and to talk about it to their friends, families and communities.
Around the world, renewable power capacity grew at its strongest ever pace in 2013 and now produces 22% of world energy.
More than $250bn was invested in “green” generating systems in 2013, although the growth is expected to slacken, partly because western politicians are seeking to reduce financial incentives.
The growth rate of windfarms and solar plants in China, India and an array of smaller developing nations is starting to outpace that in the richest ones.
This explains why investors are increasingly confident and keen to put their money on alternative energy.
But despite all these measures, global carbon emissions continue to rise.
To achieve the necessary reduction in carbon emissions will require the invention and mass roll-out of new technologies that do not exist yet.
However, my experiences as director of the Science Museum from 2007-10, exploring the legacy of technical innovation on public display and held in its reserve collection, and of working with engineers on space projects during the exhilarating era of the 70s and 80s, convinces me that human ingenuity is unbounded and that technological advances can be very rapid.
My hope lies with the engineers.
But the right conditions need to be in place for innovation to occur.
Progress is hard when other economic drivers inhibit the transformation. Fossil fuels are estimated by the International Energy Agency to receive subsidies of $500bn per year, six times the incentives to develop renewables.
Suppose we fail to take the action needed to stay below the 2C guardrail.
The IPCC working group I predicts that by the end of the century, if measures to mitigate emissions are weak, we could have committed to more than a 4C rise.
No nation would be immune to the impacts of that level of climate change.
Our infrastructure was built for the climate system we inherited and is not designed to cope with the climate system we are provoking.
Our food and water supplies, housing, industry – our entire wellbeing and prosperity – depend on access to energy.
And our primary source, at present, is fossil fuel.
So we are confronted with a need to totally transform the world’s energy system.
At the same time we need to ensure energy security, equity, sustainability and growth.
So what does the future hold?
I look at my eldest grandchild who will reach the age I am now in 2071.
I encourage her to be an engineer.
We are all dependent on energy.
Almost everything we do depends on it.
There will be carbon atoms that we each generate today that will still be in the air in 2071, in the air that my granddaughter will breathe.
Science can inform, but it cannot arbitrate, it cannot decide.
Science can say that if we burn another half-trillion tons of carbon the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide will go up by another 100 ppm and that will almost certainly lead to a warming of the planet greater than 2C, with major disruption of the climate system and huge risks for the natural world and human wellbeing.
But it can’t answer moral questions.
Do we care about the poor?
Do we care about future generations?
Do we see the environment as part of the economy, or the economy as part of the environment?
The whole point about climate change is that, despite having been revealed by science, it is not really about science.
It is about what sort of world we want to live in and what kind of future we want to create.
Reuters : This year may be hottest on record; adds urgency to climate talks: U.N.
1 chart has been added & 1 chartwithdrawn since the last update (March 2014) :
7659 De Cabo de Gata à Cabo de Las Huertas et de Cap Milonia à Cap Ivi (replacing chart 3678 Côte de l'Algérie (1ère feuille), d'Alger à la frontière du Maroc)
All the other charts have been updated according to the new editions :
Note : in our catalogue of 597 charts from SHOM, we have also temporary withdrawn in this new update some charts mainly in foreign areas managed by SHOM which were badly georeferenced (local datum issues)
- for example (list non exhaustive) : 6624, 6688, 6689, 6690, 6691, 6692, 7014, 7504, 7507 ...
All these charts will be re-include in a next update on our GeoGarage platform.
By the way some of our users ask us why some general charts -which are displayed in the official portal of the SHOM - are not displayed in the GeoGarage.
The reason is that these charts are facsimilés of international (INT) charts from UKHO, IHM Spain, IIM Italia or NHS Norway for example : so these charts have some copyrights which are not managed by our commercial license with SHOM - for example (list non exhaustive) : 6608 (NO301), 6618 (GB4102), 6898 (NL2003-GB 4402), 7015 (ES4C), 7210 (GB2649), 7292 (IT434)....
Today 751 charts including sub-charts from SHOM material are displayed in the Marine GeoGarage.
STICK-SLIM and still, Captain Lube sits in Lagos’s commercial fishing harbour, watching his crew clean a rusting shrimp trawler.
He used to look forward to guiding them out to the rough Atlantic waters.
But nowadays he has grown too afraid to venture far from the coast.
Pirates infest west Africa’s seas, and he has seen many fellow captains kidnapped and sometimes killed.
He has become jumpy; every approaching vessel might pose a danger.
The trawling company for which he works says that attacks last year were “too many to count”.
Just a few years ago the most dangerous waters in the world were off the coast of Somalia.
But piracy there has fallen dramatically.
It is more than two years since Somali pirates last successfully boarded a ship.
At their peak in 2011, attacks were taking place almost daily.
The number of attempts has fallen to a handful every month.
Now it is the Gulf of Guinea that is the worst piracy hotspot, accounting for 19% of attacks worldwide, as recorded by the International Maritime Bureau.
It registers an attack nearly every week (see map).
The numbers are probably underestimates. America’s Office of Naval Intelligence reckons the real figure is more than twice as large—and growing.
The nature of piracy is quite different on the two sides of the continent.
Around the Horn of Africa in the east, Somali pirates seek to seize ships and crews for ransom, and have ventured deep into the Indian Ocean.
In the Gulf of Guinea in the west, attackers are more intent on stealing cash and cargoes of fuel, such as diesel, from ships coming in to port.
Crews are sometimes kidnapped.
It is a quicker hit than the Somali hostage-taking.
It also tends to be more violent because the attackers have little incentive to keep the crews safe.
Armed resistance is often met with heavy machine guns and military tactics, says Haakon Svane, of the Norwegian shipowners’ association.
Ships are seized for a few days, anchored quietly and cargoes are siphoned off into smaller vessels.
The gangs also appear to have good intelligence, security sources say: they often know which ships to attack and they recruit the skilled crewmen needed to operate the equipment.
Frequently the targets are themselves involved in regional smuggling, so they switch off transponders or assume false identities, making it hard for rudimentary anti-piracy forces to keep track of them. Moreover, they do not report attacks.
Incidents have stretched all the way from the Ivory Coast to Angola, but the root of the problem lies in Nigeria.
Most acts of piracy are committed in Nigerian seas, by Nigerian criminals.
The trouble at sea is ultimately tied to the country’s dysfunctional oil industry and the violent politics of the Niger Delta, where most of the oil is produced.
Nigeria is the world’s eighth-largest oil producer; nevertheless, it suffers from shortages of refined fuels.
Widespread “bunkering” (the term Nigerians use for the theft of oil) and a violent insurgency created the conditions for piracy to flourish.
Analysts say there tend to be spikes in both bunkering and maritime criminality before elections, which may mean that politicians are using illicit means to finance themselves.
If so, expect pilfering to rise as Nigeria’s presidential vote nears in February.
“The ransoms are used for the elections,” says Hans Tino Hansen, managing director of the Risk Intelligence consultancy.
He points to a “feudal system” in which politicians protect pirates in return for a cut of their profits.
An added problem is that elections may divert the attention of the security agencies.
Boarding team from Spanish EU Naval Force warship ESPS Rayo board
a suspicious skiff off the coast of Somalia.
Photo - EU NAVFOR
Atalanta on the Atlantic?
Some of the smaller countries in the region have appealed for help from the world’s navies.
The success of various task forces, including the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, in dealing with criminality off east Africa leads people to ask why they should not repeat the job off the west coast.
After all, about 12% of Europe’s imported oil comes from west Africa.
But years of anti-piracy operations around the Horn of Africa have strained navies.
On the plus side, they have led to unprecedented international co-operation: for the first time since the second world war all five permanent members of the UN Security Council have deployed forces on the same side.
Among those guarding these sea-lanes are forces operating under national, EU and NATO commands as well as club-like structures such as the Combined Maritime Force (CMF), whose anti-piracy mission is headed by a New Zealander.
Against that, however, officers complain that their crews are missing training for what they see as their main mission of high-intensity warfare.
In addition, ships operating around Somalia wear out more quickly than those in other waters—dust and sand in the air damage their engines and the high temperatures harm electronics designed to operate in cooler Atlantic or Mediterranean waters.
Hence the NATO component of the anti-piracy force, which usually comprises four or five ships, is down to two—and securing these was a stretch.
The EU force, which was meant to have disbanded this year, will now keep going until 2016. It is currently commanded from the decks of an Italian destroyer, the Andrea Doria.
Western countries are reluctant to get sucked into another commitment on Africa’s western coast.
One reason is that attacks take place in territorial waters, where they count as “armed robbery at sea”.
Dealing with them is the job of littoral states, not foreign navies (in Somalia, a failed state, UN resolutions authorised force in the country’s waters and on land).
Another is that, despite the oil, sea traffic around west Africa is small compared with the arteries connecting Europe and Asia through the Suez Canal.
And although piracy in the east has been subdued for the time being, nobody thinks the problem will end until stable government is restored to Somalia.
Indeed, the threat of resurgence may be growing given the thinning numbers of warships and the money-saving risks that shipowners are starting to take (sailing closer to Somalia, at slower speed and with fewer armed guards).
In short, nobody wants to become bogged down in another open-ended naval operation.
The success around the Horn of Africa was because of a mixture of factors—intense patrolling by international navies, the deployment of armed guards on ships and defensive action by crews.
It may be harder to reproduce that combination in the Gulf of Guinea.
In the narrow Gulf of Aden, for instance, ships were encouraged to sail fast and in convoys to make it harder for pirates to board; passive defences (such as bullet-proof rooms) and guards could buy enough time for warships nearby to come to the rescue.
But in west Africa the most vulnerable ships are either at anchor or are lining up to come in and out of port.
Nigeria has refused to allow ships to bring armed guards into its waters.
Some that have tried have had their crews arrested and charged with arms smuggling.
West African states are trying to strengthen their coast guards with Western help, and efforts are being made to share information on shipping and attacks.
But if there is to be a halt to piracy Nigeria will have to take the lead in patrolling its own waters and curbing illegal activity.
Given the country’s inability to deal with an insurgency by Boko Haram militants in the north—a double suicide-bombing this week killed scores of people in the town of Maiduguri—there is little reason to think that it will have much success in protecting its waters.
The worry is that piracy, itself, is becoming enmeshed with drugs- and arms-smuggling networks linked to violent jihadist groups in the Sahel.
The continuing expansion of the Suez canal risks causing serious harm to marine lifeforms and economic activity in the Mediterranean sea, scientists are warning.
Egypt is building a second “lane” to the Suez canal, as well as widening the existing channel, in an “ominous” scheme scientists fear could allow greater numbers of non-indigenous species to enter the Mediterranean and endanger the native ecosystem.
“The enlargement of the canal will increase the number of invasions from the Red Sea resulting in a diverse range of harmful effects on the ecosystem structure and functioning of the whole Mediterranean sea, with implications to services it provides for humans,” Bella Galil, a marine biologist at Israel’s National Institute of Oceanography, told the Guardian.
Writing in the Biological Invasions academic journal, Galil and 17 colleagues accept that the expansion will go ahead despite their concerns, and acknowledge that the revenues from an enlarged canal are likely to bring Egypt a much needed economic boost.
But they ask Egypt to first conduct an impact assessment to determine the project’s likely environmental footprint, and any preventive measures to mitigate the dangers ultrasound, and increased salinity in certain parts of the canal.
There are about 700 non-indigenous species in the Mediterranean, according to the scientists, about 350 of which have entered from the Suez Canal since its construction in the late 19th century.
Some of these species “are noxious, poisonous, or venomous and pose clear threats to human health”, while others have destroyed the habitats of local creatures.
Among the most destructive recent entrants from the Suez is the silver-cheeked pufferfish, a non-native fish containing toxic chemicals that has caused several people to be treated in hospital in the eastern Mediterranean in the past 10 years.
Two kinds of herbivorous rabbit-fish – the dusty spine-foot and its cousin the marbled spine-foot – have destroyed vast swaths of underwater seaweed forests in the eastern Mediterranean, after migrating through the Suez in recent decades.
Vast swarms of tropical Rhopilema nomadica jellyfish regularly prevent commercial fishing and sometimes close tourist beaches in the Mediterranean.
Perhaps the most dangerous newcomer is the nomad jellyfish, orRhopilema nomadica.
Once only found in tropical waters, the nomad jellyfish invaded the Mediterranean via the Suez in the 1970s.
Now its vast swarms, which can measure tens of miles in width, frequently make commercial fishing impossible and have sometimes closed tourist beaches lining the Mediterranean for days at a time.
“This isn’t just about the effect on other species,” said Stefano Piraino, a jellyfish expert at the University of Salento, and one of the 18 signatories.
“We’re talking about a threat to human life and human activity, including tourism, agriculture, and fisheries.”
Richness (number of species in a 10 × 10 km grid) of marine alien species introduced in the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal (Lessepsian immigrants).
Map was produced by EASIN's mapping widget.
Some of the jellyfish have temporarily disabled power stations lining the eastern Mediterranean, after the swarms became stuck in the stations’ seawater-powered cooling systems.
Nearby fishermen have found their catches ruined for similar reasons. “Jellyfish can be 90% of the catch – and the remaining fish are very damaged, so the value of the fish is greatly reduced,” said Piraino.
This year, researchers at the university of East Anglia estimated that jellyfish from the Suez would cost fishermen in the northern Adriatic sea – which is only a small part of the Mediterranean – €8.2m (£6.5m) in financial losses.
The 18 scientists have called on signatories to the Convention of Biological Diversity, a UN-organised pledge to conserve the world’s ecosystems, to press Egypt to conduct an impact assessment into the environmental effects of the canal expansion.
Responding to the call, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the convention on biological diversity, acknowledged the potential environmental and socioeconomic effects of the Suez expansion, and asked Egypt to implement an environmental assessment.
“We trust that, as party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Egypt will adhere to its obligations,” Dias told the Guardian.
This giant project will be the creation of a new Suez Canal parallel to the current channel of a total length of 72 kilometers (44.74 miles).
The new channel, part of a larger project to expand Suez port and shipping facilities, aims to raise Egypt’s international profile and establish it as a major trade hub.
Construction of the bypass, dubbed the “new Suez canal” by the Egyptian government, began in August.
It will allow two-way traffic for 45 miles of the canal’s 120-mile length, creating room for more ships, and potentially more revenue for cash-strapped Egypt.
The project has been warmly received by many Egyptians, who contributed 80% of the 64bn Egyptian pounds (£5.6bn) raised to build the new canal, after the government promised them a 12% annual yield on their investment.
Criticism of the project is seen as unpatriotic, with some local newspapers calling it “the project of the century” and comparing it to Egypt’s surprise attack on Israel in 1973 – one of the proudest moments in modern Egyptian history.
Team Vestas Wind may likely have concluded their Volvo Ocean Race campaign when their boat was grounded on the Cargados Carajos Shoals in the Indian Ocean on Saturday night, November 29. With both rudders broken and water ingress into the stern compartment, it was a grim moment for skipper Chris Nicholson and his team.
View of the shoal and the Team Vestas grounded from the lagoon side of the reef image via Team Alvimedica
Sitting high on the reef, the crew waited until daylight, then stepped off the boat onto the reef, later to be transferred to a local rescue boat.
Now they will stay on nearby Íle du Sud today (Nov. 30), with plans to return to the boat on Monday to remove gear and travel on Tuesday to Mauritius (Dec. 2).
Click here for the incident report.
Two questions are being asked.
Where is Cargados Carajos Shoals and how can a professional team have this kind of accident?
Cargados Carajos is a group of long lying islands that are .8 square miles in area, with surrounding coral reefs.
What is says in the pilot about the Cargados Carajos shoals (NGA)... no really true if we look at the official maps (overlayed on satellite imagery).
IN42503A (updated 25/03/2014): Cargados Carajos Shoals (1:45,000) Approach ENC (vector) from NHO (Indian Naval Hydrographic Department) equivalent to NHO paper chart 2503 (1:75,000): Approaches to Cargados Carajos Shoals -Saint Brandon- (updated 31/03/2014)
They are inhabited and belong to Mauritius, an island nation 270 miles to the southwest.
Mauritius is about 1,200 miles off the southeast coast of the African continent.
zoom on the South of Cargados Carajos with the Marine GeoGarage NGA 61551 (1996 3rd ed 1996 NM 04/99) NTM based on the data from the following BA1881 chart :
extract of the BA1881 (ed 31/01/1941) UKHO chart, scale 1:121.000 from surveys by Capt Eward Belcher in 1846, HMS Samarang (soundings in fathoms) note : 'no vessel could venture to approach its seaward face' UKHO NtM for BA1881 (see with the Marine GeoGarage that there is no problem of geo-referencing)
As to why Vestas Wind ran aground, Vestas Chief Marketing Officer Morten Albæk is delaying comment.
“The root cause of the accident is now under investigation. (However) we obviously hope to stay in the race.”
A team led by the Vestas shore crew is now en route to Mauritius to further assess the damage to the boat.
Team Alvimedica is motoring with sails down about 1.8 miles from the vicinity
of where Team Vestas Wind is grounded.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker was not surprised by the incident.
“When we went past there we actually said how easy it would be to hit it at night. Fortunately we went through there in the daylight. It is very difficult to see it with the electronic charts, and of course at night you wouldn’t see it at all.”
Screen of the navigation software used onboard (Expedition): with C-Map charts at large scale, showing the Cargados Carajos Bank quite clearly.
Team Alvimedica, which had been near Vestas Wind at the time of the incident, was equally concerned about safely navigating through the area.
“We had been talking about these reefs for some time, so we were already pretty nervous about it,” noted Team Alvimedica navigator Will Oxley in front of Adrena software screen (see video)
Dongfeng Race Team reporter Yann Riou notes how they also had the Cargados Carajos Shoals directly in their path.
“Skipper Charles Caudrelier had noticed this archipelago a few days earlier, but it’s worth noting that it’s actually pretty hard to find. In fact, to see it on our electronic charts, you have to zoom right in on top of it. But how and why would you zoom into it if you don’t know it’s there in the first place? So whilst we don’t know exactly what happened on Vestas, we can imagine how it happened.”
C-Map charts of the grounding area displayed at a small scale :
with digital vector charts, these reefs does not show up at some zoom levels
(at larger scale -: zoom) Who bothers to "zoom in" when you are in the middle of the ocean?
After analyzing the early information from afar, marine industry consultant and professional navigator Campbell Field provides his opinion on the incident…
“Since Vestas Wind grounding there has been a huge amount of speculation and opinion as to how this happened, or who is to blame.
“It’s terrible for them, and terrible for the fleet and the race,” says Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier. “We are offshore in the middle of nowhere, and on the chart, if you don’t go on the maximum zoom you can’t see anything.” “There are shallow spots, and plenty 200m deeper - I’m not surprised you can miss them,” he adds. “When I was looking at the navigation a few days ago, checking these things, it took a long time for me to find them.” see VolvoOceanRace news
“I don’t know 100% about other software packages, but Expedition routing can route freely (i.e. with no obstacles) or can be constrained by charts, or your own marks, or your own prohibited zones. Plenty of optimal route outputs run where you would have to put the wheels down.
Ultimately, it is the user who defines how the routing output is run and results used.
“The point I’m putting forward here is that software does not make someone a navigator. First you must be a navigator, and then know and understand the strengths and limitations of the tools you have.
“When this is explained to a lot of people I meet, it is usually met with confused stares. The number of software jockeys (promoting themselves navigators) in yacht racing I have come across, who expect the answers to fall out of their computer, is astounding. Take the deck screen away from them and they couldn’t get out of the marina or find the top mark efficiently if their life depended on it.
“Vestas Wind navigator Wouter Verbraak is one of the best, and firmly falls into the category of a superb yachtsman and navigator. He is one who understands the strengths and limitations of digital tools more than most will ever do. And one of the nicest guys in the sport to boot.
“Mistakes happen. Just glad they are all safe and uninjured.”
A couple of hours before... (strangely prophetic) "It is far better to have absolutely no idea of where one is - and to know it - than to believe confidently that one is where one is not." Jean-Dominique Cassini, astronomer 1170
The tech billionaire told CNN that the primary goal is for Comanche "to be a record breaker" and "go really, really fast."
The yacht will get its first chance with an upcoming race that takes
competitors 630 nautical miles from Sydney, Australia to Hobart, the
capital of Tasmania.
It will be the first outing for Comanche.
"I wish Sydney-Hobart wasn't the first race, in fact you couldn't choose a worst race for our first race. It's like we've gone straight from the gym to the heavyweightchampionship of the world," Ken Read, Comanche's skipper, said to CNN.
"And it could end up like an F1 car blowing its engine on its first outing on the track."
Comanche and its 22-person crew have already set sail for Australia, where they will prepare for the Hobart race, which usually starts just after Christmas.Clark's other boat, the 295-foot "Athena," is currently for sale for $75 million.