Tiny microbes on glaciers cause positive feedback for climate change

Tiny microbial activity on glaciers in the Arctic is reducing heat reflected back into the atmosphere. This effect has previously been overlooked but is expected to increase the effects of climate change in the polar regions.

Over the past few years Professor Liane G. Benning and PhD student Stefanie Lutz, members of the Cohen geochemistry research group in the School of Earth and Environment, have been busy making trips to Svalbard and Iceland to measure the ‘albedo’, the reflectivity, of glaciers and how microbial gardens might effect the amount of sunlight reflected by the glacier.

They discussed their recent trip to Svalbard with BBC’s Paul Hudson on his Weather Show radio channel. As well as talk about watching a solar eclipse from the the North, polar bear attacks, northern lights and news on a big new grant to study glaciers in Greenland!


2014 warmest year on record since 1880

The year 2014 was Earth’s warmest in 134 years of records, according to separate independent analysis of temperature data by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Both studies found that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880, when records began. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 2000.


Independent measurements by 4 separate institutes around the world all agree that the world has been getting warmer since 1880 with accelerating warming in the last few decades.


Since 1880, Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 0.8 degrees Celsius, a trend largely driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the atmosphere. The majority of that warming has occurred in the past three or four decades.

Check out the map below (compiled by NOAA) for some of the significant global climate events of 2014.


More Information:
Summary of the report: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/summary-info/global/2014/12
[2] http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/decadaltemp.php
[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30852588

Warmer and Warmer: 2013 Global Temperatures Follow Long Term Warming Trend


Every year NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) release their analysis of annual global temperatures. The results for 2013, published yesterday, conform to a sustained long term climate warming trend.

Plot of the global average temperature anomaly showing the observed long term warming trend. Courtesy of NASA.

Plot of the global average temperature anomaly showing the observed long term warming trend.
Image: NASA.

The average global temperature last year was 14.6 degrees Celsius which is 0.8 C warmer than temperatures in 1880. Most of this warming (about 0.6 C) occurred in the last 60 years. The results unequivocally show that the climate is indeed experiencing a long term warming trend. Nine of the top 10 warmest years in the 134-year meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000. 2010 and 2005 were jointly the warmest years on record.

Annual average Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents. Dramatic loss is observed in the Arctic while the Antarctic has remained relatively stable.  Image: NASA

Annual average Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents. Dramatic loss is observed in the Arctic while the Antarctic has remained relatively stable.
Image: NASA

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5): Working Group 1 (WG1) report published last year states with very high certainty that this warming trend is mostly due to the affects of human induced greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA scientists stressed the difference between a long term warming trend and differences in short term temperatures. Annual/seasonal differences occur due to random weather variations while long term trends indicate changes in the global average climate.

The greatest magnitude of warming is occurring in the northern latitudes around the arctic circle. These observations closely tie-in with measurements of annual average arctic sea ice extent.

The GISS temperature record is one of several global temperature analyses, along with those produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. These three primary records use slightly different methods, but overall, their trends show close agreement.


More information:
[1] http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/january/nasa-finds-2013-sustained-long-term-climate-warming-trend
[2] http://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/NOAA_NASA_2013_Global_Temperatures_Joint_Briefing.pdf
[3] http://www.ipcc.ch
[4] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/picture/2012/feb/01/nasa-global-temperature-big-picture


Extreme El Niño Events Expected To Occur Twice As Often



El Niño is a weather phenomenon that develops across the Pacific Ocean. Essentially it is a band of anomalously warm ocean water temperatures that develops off the west coast of South America.

El Niño causes climatic changes across the Pacific and can result in severe droughts on the western Pacific while the eastern Pacific experiences anomalously high rainfall and catastrophic floods.

These extreme weather events typically occur once every 20 years but a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that extreme El Niño events could occur twice as often due to the effects of global warming.

The last such event occurred in 1997/98 in which the anomalous conditions caused widespread environmental disruption including the disappearance of much marine fauna in the Pacific. The impacts affected every continent and claimed an estimated 23,000 lives worldwide causing USD 35-45 billion in damage.


More Information:
[1] http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/teleconnections/enso/enso-tech.php

Chasing Ice – Time to Act!

Nature is changing, right before our eyes” – James Balog

The Doctoral Training Centre for Low Carbon Technologies at the University of Leeds recently held a showing of the multiple award winning 2012 documentary film “Chasing Ice”, which Jeff Orlowski began directing while still an undergraduate student.

The documentary follows acclaimed National Geographic photographer James Balog as he tries to capture the rapidly changing nature of our glaciers.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

James’ initial interest with glaciers was sparked in Iceland when he fell in love with the endless beautiful forms ice can make. Inevitably his passion for photographing the changing forms of ice led him to the nature of climate and change and it’s affects on glacial retreat.

The long term stability of glaciers is intimately linked with average climatic temperatures. Therefore climate change has a dramatic impact on our glaciers.

James founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) with the aim to use time lapse photography to record changes in glaciers over time. He was convinced that the best way to demonstrate the immediate effects of climate change was to provide people with visual evidence of the changes.

The film contains very beautiful images of ice and glaciers including a mind boggling and truly humbling video of the formation of a gigantic iceberg similar in size to lower Manhattan!

I think we all agree that graphs and charts rarely stimulate the public’s imagination. James has taken the age old advice that gets drilled into Geoscience undergraduates “a good figure is worth a thousand words” and used it to dramatic effect. By creating a story based around his visually stunning imagery he has brought the climate issue within grasp of everyone regardless of technical background and expertise. He has shown that you do not need to be a scientist to see and experience the changing face of the Earth. This form of science communication is one of the key way to get these complex issues to the general public.

Photo courtesy of thephotosociety.org

Photo courtesy of thephotosociety.org

James in his TED talk quite rightly concludes that we currently have a perception problem. We have the technology, the ideas and to some extent the means to help change this planet. What we lack is a globally unified public perception! We need to get the message to EVERYONE! Including our children, who will be the ones living on a changing planet.

Climate change is real and the current rapid changes are a direct result of human interference with the natural order of the world. It is through the efforts of dedicated scientists and engineers working on these issues as well as the work of people like James, that together will help us raise this issue in the public eye. It affects us all and only together we can do something meaningful about it.

Consider your response when in 20 years time your children ask, “what were you doing when your generation destroyed the balance of the world?”

Never before has the phrase “now is the time to act” been more pertinent.


More information at: