Have we reached a tipping point?

Global mean tempearture 2000-2019

At the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it is sobering to review some of the monumental records set around the world. A recent report from NASA and NOAA found that the past five years each ranked as the five hottest on record globally similar to 19 of the past 20 years in this century. At the start of 2020, January has already been the hottest on record in Europe, 3.1 °C warmer compared to a 1981-2010 baseline, with parts of the northeast of the continent extraordinarily (6.1 °C) warmer. In addition, a new record high was recently reported on the continent of Antarctica, 20.7 °C, beating the previous record of 18.3 °C set a few weeks earlier. Meanwhile, in Australia, after experiencing the driest spring on record in 2019, the country recently recorded its hottest day ever, with an average high of 41.9 °C (107.4 °F), which was 1 °C higher than the record set the previous day.

All of these temperature records are fueling destructive weather events in 2020, for example increasing wildfires around the world chronicled in a Science Brief report. The exceptionally dry and hot Australian summer has led to the worst wildfire season ever, with an area larger than Austria burned. Extreme summer temperatures and strong winds also resulted in wildfires near Valparaiso, Chile, similar to what we saw again last year in California. In the Mediterranean region, "Medicanes" such as Gloria flooded a river delta in eastern Spain and they are occurring more frequently. Closer to home, five winter tornadoes were reported in the Washington DC region during a recent unnamed storm. The worldwide effects of extreme weather events as a result of climate change are so concerning that the headline of a recent Paul Krugman (MIT PhD '77) opinion column in the New York Times was: "Apocalypse Becomes the New Normal".

The long-term effects on the forests and oceans of the world, our buffers against global catastrophe from climate change, suggest that we are quickly progressing toward a tipping point. The unrelenting and deliberate burning of the Amazon may be pushing 'the lungs of the world' to a point where corrective action may no longer be possible. The Greenland ice sheet is losing unprecedented amounts of ice with an ever increasing contribution to global sea-level rise. Studies of Antarctic glaciers are on-going, and early results suggest that these are contributing even more substantially to sea-level rise. Another study of ocean currents recently concluded that substantial acceleration in global ocean circulation has occurred in the past few decades, intensified by surface winds and reaching kilometer depths. All of these are the result of climate change leading to record high temperatures of the oceans, which were the hottest ever in 2019, and before that in 2018, and before that in 2017, a disturbing repeating trend on a global scale.

All Comments

within the MIT club of Palm Beach we have established a climate change working group to add our insight to the problem of decarbonizing energy and sequestering carbon dioxide in the environment. We note that some of the previous ice ages have followed periods of warming followed by huge increases in CO2 Uptake through photosynthesis. Since more than 80% of the excess CO2 of the last hundred years has been sequestered into the oceans it would seem logical to sequester that carbon directly through biological means.

There have been numerous small trials of ocean fertilization with mixed results and of course there are many people in the oceanography community who are afraid of tinkering with ocean ecology because of unintended consequences both directly and indirectly.

That being said we think that a properly controlled and monitored study of ocean fertilization at a significant scale and carried out for a minimum of 3 years should be both safe and doable for a reasonable price. We have been in contact with Russell George who ran the Aleutian fertilization experiment on the pro side and Edith Widder from who is wary of ocean fertilization but we feel that Woods Hole and possibly the Department of biology might want to weigh in on this as well.

The ocean phytoplankton are already working overtime using the extra carbon in our system (although the acidification of the oceans may be causing disruption). I would recommend working with making the kelp forests healthier, and perhaps harvesting that organic matter for food and chemical feedstocks. (not fuel, of course).
If you haven't seen anything about healthier soil, check it out. (even cover crops help, the new farm bill is doing some pilots on quantifying the carbon storaged, for carbon trading benefit.)

It is time for #RealClimateAction!! Too many folks are still in the 'let's talk about it' mode -- they must be pushed. With regard to MIT in particular, let us remind all of the MIT Climate CoLab winning proposal for conversion of MIT's campus to Zero Carbon "Effectively Free" --…. The geothermal experts we work with absolutely know how to make this kind of transition to NZE/Zero Carbon even in urban settings, and to break-even cost-wise fully within the cost of finance! Call them to campus to learn before burying heads in the sand.