Friday, March 27, 2015

A North Atlantic nasty surprise: AMOC slowing faster than expected

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation slowing much faster than expected

It seems that the 2004 Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie The Day after Tommorrow, while highly exaggerated, had the seed of scientific fact based upon the possible disruption that could occur from the slowdown or catastrophic cessation of the Atlantic ocean Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), also known as the thermohaline circulation or Great ocean conveyor belt.

A new study by Rahmstorf et al (2015) published in Nature Climate Change has found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning circulation. This is based upon multiple lines of observation suggesting that over recent decades the current system has been weaker than ever before in the last century, or even in the last millennium.

The Gulf Stream is part of this circulation system with warm waters, which are naturally lighter, flowing north, and responsible for the mild climate of north western Europe. In the sub-polar region these waters cool, become more dense, and sink to the bottom before they start flowing south along the ocean bottom towards the tropics, then the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean. The conveyor belt of currents connects the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans providing heat transfer and mixing throughout the globe.

Related Links: What’s going on in the North Atlantic? at Realclimate Blog | New Research Shows Exceptional Slowdown In Major Atlantic Ocean Currents Greg Laden's Science Blog

Monday, March 16, 2015

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam devastates Vanuatu and other Pacific Island nations

Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm as measured on both the Australian and Saffir-Simpson storm measurement scales, with wind gusts over 300km/hr, has devastated the Pacific Island Nation of Vanuatu.

The storm made a direct hit on the capital Port Vila of this island country on Friday night and the early hours of Saturday morning, causing widespread damage, blocking roads, power and communication outages and destroying many homes and buildings. Even the main Hospital in Port Vila suffered damage.

Tom Skirrow from Save The Children says 10,000 people need emergency shelter in Port Vila alone according to Liam Fox, an ABC News Pacific Affairs Reporter. According to Radio New Zealand (@RNZNews) Vanuatu's Disaster Management Office says part of the country's main hospital, Vila Central, have been destroyed. This has been confirmed by Vanuatu's lands minister, Ralph Regenvanu, saing only one ward of Vila Central Hospital is still operational.

The United Nations Relief web reported:
The cyclone was one of the strongest ever recorded in the Pacific Islands with sustained winds of 270km/hr gusting to 360km/hr. The United Nations has stated that Pam could be one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the Pacific. Vanuatu’s President, Baldwin Lonsdale, has appealed to the global community for help. Thousands of people are in temporary shelters. Entire communities were severely damaged in some areas. Islands in the north and south of Vanuatu were hit most directly.

Vanuatu has a population of 267,000 spread over 65 islands, with nearly 50,000 people living in the capital Port Vila.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister announced on Saturday $5 million to assist the efforts of Australian non-government organisations, the Red Cross and United Nations partners in assisting with the crisis. New Zealand has committed an initial NZ$1m in the wake of the Cyclone devastation. The British Prime Minister announced £2 million aid to cyclone-struck Vanuatu

There are few reports yet of damage to other towns and villages, but the damage and death toll is likely to be even more extensive from these outlying areas and remote islands.

Aurelia Balpe (@aureliabalpe), Head Pacific Office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported that in a "1st report private fly-over Tanna & Erramngo, trees uprooted, no corrugated iron structures standing, no roofs on concrete blds, no H20", A dire situation report. Also "Our @ShelterCluster coordinator also witnessed devastation on Tanna as NZ Hercules flew over earlier today".

The Red Cross says an aid worker has made it to the island of Tanna, in southern Vanuatu, and has told of vast devastation, according to Radio New Zealand.

Storm surge causes flood damage to Other Pacific Nations

Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands have also been impacted by large storm surges and increased wave heights causing flooding, and torrential rain as the Tropical Cyclone passed through.

The level of destruction from the flooding caused the Government of Tuvalu to issue a State of Emergency. Up to 45% of the population, mostly from the outer isles, are displaced by flooding caused by the storm surge. This flooding destroys crops and poisons the freshwater lenses that people depend upon to drink and for agriculture.

Aurelia Balpe reported that "KiribatiRC reports 'many' houses destroyed by tidal surges on Tamana Island, many gathered in community maneaba 4 shelter."

On the Solomon Islands several homes and a school were reported flood destroyed as well as crops destroyed.

All these Pacific Nations are already feeling the impacts of climate change in rising sea levels, increased torrential storms producing flash floods and landslides, and increased droughts. The increase in intensity of Tropical Cyclones is particularly devastating when they make a direct hot like on Vanuatu.

One of the drivers of cyclone intensity is increased sea surface temperatures, and the tropical Pacific has had above average water temperatures which passes energy to enable the cyclone to intensify rapidly.

Vanuatu ranked first in world for disaster vulnerability

Vanuatu presently ranks number one on the list of disaster vulnerable countries. The devastation by this Category 5 cyclone is at a scale of disaster well beyond the means of local agencies and the government of Vanuatu to cope with.

The last several years strong efforts have been made in emergency planning, disaster risk management and preparedness, but communities outside the capital of Port Vila are particularly vulnerable due to lack of government services and reliance on subsistence farming for survival. The storm has taken out much of the countries communications systems and also washed away roads and bridges for accessing more remote communities.

It is estimated that the entire population of 220,000 people are affected in some way. Major rebuilding will be required, including supply of food and water while much of the subsistence agriculture is re-established.

Vanuata President Baldwin Lonsdale, attending the United Nations conference on Risk Reduction in Sendai in Japan, said in a media release said:

"Vanuatu is used to disasters but the indications are that Cyclone Pam has caused unprecedented damages...This is a major calamity for our country. Every year we lose 6% of our GDP to disasters. This cyclone is a huge setback for the country's development. It will have severe impacts for all sectors of economic activity including tourism, agriculture and manufacturing. The country is already threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels in addition to five active volcanos and earthquakes. This is why I am attending this Conference and why Vanuatu wants to see a strong new framework on disaster risk reduction which will support us in tackling the drivers of disaster risk such as climate change."

While earthquake disasters have tended to cause more mortality, storms have had a much larger economic cost on the country according to disaster statistics. But Cyclone Pam being an intense Category 5 storm making landfall in the archipelago where both wind speed and storm surge could cause maximum destruction, is likely to exact a very high rate of mortality and economic losses.

Call on Australia to lift Foreign Aid Budget

During the 2014 budget handed down by Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey some $7.6 billion was cut from Foreign Aid. The Mid year Economic Review at the end of 2014 slashed a further $3.7 billion. Much of this budget was used for funding needed basic infrastructure, disaster reduction, climate adaptation and building community resilience programs in Pacific nations.

ActionAid Australia’s Deputy Executive Director, Michelle Higelin, spoke from the third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai. In her statement she called for all developed countries, including Australia, to to commit at least 5% of their official development assistance to disaster risk reduction, and restore Australia's Foreign Aid budget to 0.5% of Australia's gross national income.

“This is also a reminder to the Australian government of how critical our aid program is, and that in the face of increasing frequency, scale and impact of disasters, we should be lifting our aid investment not cutting it to an all-time low. We should be prioritising the needs and demands of developing country partners on DRR over our own national interests – which is little help in times of crisis such as this.

“We’re calling on the Australian government to put the rights of vulnerable groups, including women, at the forefront of its agenda at this World Conference and to restore its aid budget to 0.5% of our gross national income. We’re also calling on world leaders to take into account the urgency of the situation. Disasters like Cyclone Pam are coming harder and faster, and eroding poverty reduction efforts. There is no time to lose.”

Higelin also outlined that the ambition of global leaders in addressing climate change and disaster risk reduction are falling well short of protecting the most vulnerable people, especially women who are disproportionately affected by disasters.

"Everything that’s come out of the negotiations ahead of this conference indicates that the ambition of global leaders is falling short, and it will not achieve the outcomes needed to protect the world’s most vulnerable groups going forward,” Ms Higelin said. “Cyclone Pam is a devastating but timely reminder that there is no time to lose in making ambitious global commitments to reducing the risk that disasters pose to populations everywhere, and particularly to poor and marginalised in local communities all over the world."

Related Commentary

These three articles also highlight the climate change factors involved in Cyclone Pam:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Unprecedented acceleration in the rate of temperature change coming up

The latest research published in Nature Climate Change based on CMIP5 climate modelling, argues that we are likely to see rapid rates of temperature rise in the near term of the next 40 year period that is unprecedented in the last 2,000 years. The rate of temperature increase is likely to rise to 0.25 ± 0.05 °C per decade by 2020. Much of this rise will be disproportionately felt in the northern hemisphere regions of the Arctic, North America and Europe.

This acceleration will occurr over the next 40 years despite what efforts we make to reduce our emissions. What mitigation action we do take will affect the rate of temperature rise after this near term period.

"We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads," said lead author Steven Smith. "In the near term, we're going to have to adapt to these changes."

Hang onto your hats and sunscreen because this is going to become a wild ride in learning to adapt to extreme weather, especially heatwaves.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Taking the earth's temperature and the influence of ocean sea surface temperature cycles

I had a go at charting the global mean temperature trend. An interesting thing to do as it gives you an insight into all those global mean temperature graphs you see.

I started off with the GISS temperature anomaly dataset that goes from 1880 up to the present. The temperature anomaly data is provided in monthly intervals based upon a 1951-1980 baseline of 14.0 deg-C, but I really only used the data from 1970 to the present.

Using monthly data you see the extremes that sometimes occurr, both on the warm side and the cold side. I added a 12 month running average trend line (red) and a 5 year running average trendline (dark blue) to make the temperature trend clearer.

Here is the result:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Manila statement for #climate action calls for solidarity and justice

This original story first published at Nofibs.

The leaders of France and the Philippines issued an ambituous call from Manila for a global climate deal in Paris at the end of 2015.

The President of France Fran├žois Hollande (@fhollande) and President of the Philippines Benigno S. Aquino III issued the Manila call to action on climate change on 26 February 2015. The statement calls on nations to step up for an ambitious and fair agreement based on climate science to be concluded at the UNFCCC climate talks, the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), scheduled for Paris in December 2015.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Impact of climate change science on Regional Forest Agreement stumps bureacrat

This article was originally published at

At Senate estimate hearings on Monday Senator Janet Rice, the Greens spokesperson for forests, asked a number of probing questions on Regional Forest Agreements. One question in particular asked about how climate change science was included in the review of these agreements. The bureaucrats looked like stunned mullets, until one volunteered that the question would have to be taken on notice.

Really? They haven't considered some sort of cost benefit analysis of carbon sequestration? Not even as an opportunity to bid under the Emmissions Reduction Fund for the carbon sequestration potential involved in protection of old growth forests?

Senator RICE: I have one more question on climate, particularly on how climate science has progressed significantly in the years since the first RFAs were struck and climate has not been considered in the reviews so far. I want to know how it is intended that the impacts of climate change and the value of forests for carbon sequestration are going to be taken into account in the review and progress reports to come.

Mr McNamara: We will have to take the question on notice.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Extreme Weather: Severe Tropical Cyclones Lam and Marcia make Australian landfall

Double Trouble: Two severe tropical cyclones are converging on the Australian coast. Tropical Cyclone Marcia developed in the Coral Sea off the Queensland Coast. Tropical Cyclone Lam developed in the warm waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria before moving north and west into the Arafura Sea.

This map from bureau of Meteorology shows Tropical Cyclone Lam hitting the Northern Territory and Tropical Cyclone Marcia about to make landfall between Mackay and Yeppoon on the Queensland coast.

Severe Tropical cyclone Marcia is the 4th recorded category 5 storm to make landfall on the Queensland coast. Previous category 5 storms included Cyclone Yasi in 2011, Cyclone Innisfail in 1918 and Cycline Mahina in 1899. See a list of Australia's worst tropical cyclones at Australian Geographic.

Follow the live reporting at the Brisbane Times or live reporting at the Guardian.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Will Australia be a spoiler or lifter for #Paris2015 global #climate agreement?

This article was originally published at

The Geneva negotiating text provides hope for a global climate agreement in the lead up to the United Nations Paris climate negotiations in December 2015.

The Paris climate talks are a significant landmark: whether the international community will negotiate an effective agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming, or allow rising business as usual emissions to cause economic and civilisation disruption due to increasing severity of extreme weather events and rising temperatures.

You just need to look around at the climate impacts we are seeing in Australia whether it is in the bushfires in South Australia, heatwaves in Melbourne, or the increase in jellyfish blooms in North Queensland.

Help send John Englart and Tarryn to blog the Paris COP21 climate talks

I announced late December 2014 my intention of attending and reporting on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Paris from November 30 to December 11 2015. I have been following the climate science, and climate negotiations for some 10 years now.

The Paris climate talks are a significant landmark for whether the international community will negotiate an effective agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce global warming or not.

The window of opportunity for limiting warming to a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels is quickly closing. This is our last and best chance to limit the damage and inter-generational theft that climate change will inflict on present and future generations.

This year I decided I want to report live from the climate negotiations, via twitter, facebook and blog reports to, Indymedia Australia and Climate Action Moreland, my local climate action group. I will be going with my teenage daughter who will also help me blog the event and provide a teen perspective.

But we can't do this by ourselves. I have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to cover our accommodation and living expenses for 3 weeks while in Paris. I am negotiating to stay in Youth Hostel style accomodation that is being organised by Civil Society groups for bloggers like myself and Tarryn.

Chip in some money to help cover our basic expenses. The return on the investment will be to ensure some great on the ground live reporting from the Climate talks. I hope in particular to track the Australian negotiators and what contribution they make to a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.

I am active in my local climate group, Climate Action Moreland and I am across many of the climate related policies of the City of Moreland. I hope to informally talk with and network among many other climate, environmental and social justice activists from around the world for a cross-pollination of ideas and strategies particularly for local groups and action within urban areas and at the municipal level.

Your donation, whatever amount you can spare, will help Tarryn and I provide you with some really great first hand live reporting and impressions of this important conference. If you can't donate, please share for others to consider contributing. And when we are in Paris live tweeting, facebooking and blogging, share our posts often and widely.

Visit my Ozcrowd Fundraising campaign page to contribute.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Climate change and heatwaves in Melbourne - a Review

Abstract: The impacts of Climate change are now being felt at a regional level in cities like Melbourne. The impact of rising temperatures and increasing frequency, duration and intensity of hotspells and heatwaves on Melbourne and its urban heat island poses challenges in how to respond and adapt. There are multiple risks to human health, maintaining urban infrastructure and urban biodiversity. Countering heatwaves and climate change is a major social and political challenge and will require both rapid mitigation of carbon emissions for the long term and widespread adoption of urban climate adaptation strategies and behaviour at personal, business and government levels.

John Englart 10 February 2015.
Download as a PDF

This article started during my single subject study in Academic Research at NMIT (now Melbourne Polytechnic) during Semester 1 of 2014. The focus was selected in negotiation with my lecturer. A slightly abbreviated version was handed in as my major assessment for the subject. The other two assessments of the subject were an annotated bibliography and a formal classroom presentation, which was also published at slideshare. I received a high distinction for the subject overall.

This literature review is structured in two parts: the first on Melbourne temperature and heatwave impacts from climate change, and the second on risk management, mitigation and adaptation to rising temperatures, heatwaves, and the urban heat island effect in Melbourne.

I thought limiting my focus to one climate impact - temperature and heatwaves - and one location - Melbourne - would narrow the field substantially, but as I dug deeper and read more widely I found a wealth of relevant literature either relevant to heatwave impact or directly to my regional focus. The bulk of the references are peer reviewed academic studies, but some are academic working papers and presentations, reports to Government, and news articles including several by myself published on this blog, Sustainable Fawkner or Climate Action Moreland.