Two Tipping Points

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The image below, adapted from Climate Reanalyzer, shows that the World Sea Surface Temperature (60°South – 60°North) was at a record high of 21.1°C or 69.98°F for the third day in a row on August 23, 2023. As the image also shows, sea surface temperatures over the past few months have been much higher for the time of year than in any other year on record. 

The image below shows why this recent sea surface temperature rise is so worrying. The image below is based on NASA data for monthly mean global surface temperature anomalies (open ocean) vs 1901-1930. The ochre trend, based on January 1900-July 2023 data, indicates that the latent heat tipping point was crossed in 2021 and the seafloor methane tipping point may be crossed by the end of 2033. Both trends extend into the future for 15 years, but the red trend is based on July 2008-July 2023 data and better reflects El Niño and other variables, and this red trend indicates that the latent heat tipping point was crossed in 2023 and the seafloor methane tipping point may be crossed later this year.

[ click on images to enlarge ]

Sea ice constitutes a latent heat buffer, consuming incoming heat as it melts. While the ice is melting, all energy (at 334 J/g) goes into changing ice into water and the temperature remains at 0°C (273.15K or 32 °F). Once all ice has turned into water, all subsequent energy goes into heating up the water, and wil do so at 4.18 J/g for every 1°C the temperature of the water rises. 

[ The Latent Heat Buffer ]
[ sea ice thickness, from earlier post ]

Loss of this buffer is linked to subsequent destabilization of methane hydrates. So, there are two tipping points that are linked, and the latent heat tipping point gets crossed in the Arctic before the seafloor methane tipping point gets reached.

The situation is particularly precarious in the Arctic, as the North Atlantic Ocean is very hot and the Gulf Stream keeps pushing hot water toward the Arctic Ocean, while Arctic sea ice has become very thin. The image on the right, from Uni of Bremen, shows that on July 25, 2023, there was virtually no Arctic sea ice left that was more than 30 cm thick. 
The latent heat tipping point is the point where Arctic sea ice loss is such that further incoming ocean heat that was previously consumed as Arctic sea ice melted, instead gets absorbed by the Arctic Ocean. 
[ sea surface temperature anomaly ]

The image on the right, adapted from nullschool.net, shows that on August 2, 2023, most of the Arctic Ocean was showing surface temperatures above the daily average during 1981-2011, indicating that the latent heat tipping point was reached. The latent heat tipping point is estimated to correspond with an ocean temperature anomaly of 1°C above the long term average, 1901-1930 on the above image.

The image underneath, also from nullschool.net, shows the situation on August 20, 2023, when temperatures at the North Pole had been above zero for more than a day and temperatures were forecast to go below zero only twice briefly afterwards, for the period up to August 24, 2023 19:00 UTC (which is as far as the forecast went at the time. 
[ surface temperature ]

This is a further indication that the latent heat tipping point has been reached and that no more heat can be consumed by sea ice melting.

How much sea ice is left? What does the sea ice look like, near the North Pole? Satellite images can give a good impression, but clouds can obscure the view. A clearer view can be obtained by comparing images over several days. 
An animation can reveal how much, or rather how little sea ice is left, and to what extent water of the Arctic Ocean is visible. 
[ Satellite view, click on images to enlarge ]
The animation on the right is made with four NASA Worldview images, showing the situation on August 11, 15, 16 and 19, 2023. 
The second tipping point, the seafloor methane tipping point, occurs as more heat reaches the seafloor where it destabilizes hydrates contained in sediments at the seafloor.
This tipping point comes with multiple self-reinforcing feedback loops, such as explosive growth in methane volume setting off further destabilization, rapid rise of Arctic temperatures, loss of permafrost and loss of albedo, and release of further greenhouse gases.
Crossing of the seafloor methane tipping point will occur later than crossing of the latent heat tipping point, so the seafloor methane tipping point is estimated to correspond with a higher ocean temperature anomaly.
The current situation is particularly precarious in the Arctic, as the North Atlantic Ocean is very hot and the Gulf Stream keeps pushing hot water toward the Arctic Ocean, while Arctic sea ice has become very thin (image right) and the latent heat tipping point has been crossed.

As the temperature of the Arctic Ocean keeps rising, more heat can reach sediments located at the seafloor, since much of the Arctic Ocean is very shallow and sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean can contain vast amounts of methane.

The danger is that further heat will destabilize hydrates in these sediments, leading to explosive eruptions of methane, as its volume increases 160 to 180-fold when leaving the hydrates, and resulting in huge eruptions of methane both from the destabilizing hydrates and from methane that is present in the form of free gas underneath the hydrates.

[ from earlier post, click on images to enlarge ]

The above image, from an earlier post, illustrates that warnings have been given before about the danger of these two tipping points getting crossed in the Arctic. In the above image, the trends are based on annual sea surface temperature data for the Northern Hemisphere. The seafloor methane tipping point is estimated to get crossed when the ocean temperature anomaly on the Northern Hemisphere goes beyond 1.35°C above its long term average.

The Argo Float 7900549 compilation image below illustrates that the highest water temperatures in the Arctic Ocean can occur at a depth of approximately 100 meters. The image shows temperatures as high as 5°C at that altitude.

Stronger winds along the path of the Gulf Stream can at times speed up sea currents that travel underneath the surface. As a result, huge amounts of hot, salty water can travel from the Atlantic Ocean into the Arctic Ocean, abruptly pushing up temperatures and salinity levels at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, which in many places is very shallow.

The above image shows details of Argo float 9701007, further illustrating the danger that heat can reach the seafloor. North of Norway, where the water is less than 400 m deep, temperatures higher than 5°C show up throughout the vertical water column, up to August 10, 2023, when temperatures above 11°C were recorded close to the sea surface. The colored inset also shows that greater mixing down of heat occurred from October to December 2022, as the sea ice started to return and seal off the surface, preventing heat transfer from ocean to atmosphere, as also discussed at FAQ #11.

Below is another image adapted from Climate Reanalyzer, showing that the sea surface temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean has for months been much higher for the time of year than it was in previous years on record. Eight causes behind this have been discussed in an earlier post. The image below shows the situation on August 28, 2023, with the North Atlantic sea surface temperature reaching a record high of 25.34°C or 77.61°F. 
The image below, adapted from NOAA, shows how the Gulf Stream is pushing ocean heat toward the Arctic Ocean, while sea surface temperatures show up as high as 33.6°C or 92.48°F on August 17, 2023. 

[ 2022 animation ]

Studies, some of them dating back more than two decades, show that over the shallow East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) winds at times can mix the water column from the top to the bottom. A 2005 study of the ESAS led by Igor Semiletov recorded water temperatures at the seafloor, in September 2000, of 4.7°C at 20m depth at one location and 2.11°C at 41m depth at another location, with salinity levels of 29.7‰ and of 31.7‰, respectively.

A deformed Jet Stream, in combination with a cyclone, could similarly result in strong winds abruptly pushing a huge amount of heat through the Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean. 

The animation on the right shows how remnants of Typhoon Merbok were forecast to enter the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait from September 17 to 19, 2022.

The image below, adapted from Climate Reanalyzer, shows that the (2-meter) air temperature in the Arctic was 3.79°C on August 25, 2023, a record high for the time of year and 2.08°C higher than the 1979-2011 mean for that day.

The image below illustrates how incoming ocean heat that previously was consumed in the process of melting of the sea ice, is now causing the water of the Arctic Ocean to heat up, with more heat reaching the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, which has seas that in many places are very shallow.

[ Latent heat loss, feedback #14 on the Feedbacks page ]

Further adding to the danger is that destabilization of methane hydrates can cause huge amounts of methane to erupt with great force in the form of plumes. Consequently, little of the methane can be broken down in the water by microbes, while there is very little hydroxyl in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean to break down the methane that enters the atmosphere.

Ominously, some very high methane levels were recorded recently at Barrow, Alaska, as illustrated by the NOAA images below.

The most recent monthly methane average recorded at Barrow, Alaska, is above 2080 parts per billion.

In the video below, Guy McPherson describes the dire situation.

Climate Emergency Declaration

A catastrophe of unimaginable proportions is unfolding. Life is disappearing from Earth and runaway heating could destroy all life. At 5°C heating, most life on Earth will have disappeared. When looking only at near-term human extinction, 3°C will likely suffice.

The situation is dire and is getting more dire every day, which calls for a Climate Emergency Declaration and implementation of comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan with an update at Transforming Society.

Links

• Climate Reanalyzer – daily sea surface temperature
https://climatereanalyzer.org/clim/sst_daily

• Climate Reanalyzer – daily 2-meter air temperature
https://climatereanalyzer.org/clim/t2_daily

• NASA – GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v4/customize.html

• University of Bremen – Arctic sea ice
https://seaice.uni-bremen.de/start

• nullschool.net

https://earth.nullschool.net

• NOAA – Barrow Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, United States
https://gml.noaa.gov/dv/iadv/graph.php?code=BRW&program=ccgg&type=ts

• Argo Float
https://fleetmonitoring.euro-argo.eu

• Remnants of Typhoon Merbok forecast to enter the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait from September 17 to 19, 2022.
Discussed at https://www.facebook.com/SamCarana/posts/10166948876390161, from:
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/p/cold-freshwater-lid-on-north-atlantic.html

• The East Siberian Sea as a transition zone between Pacific-derived waters and Arctic shelf waters – by Igor Semiletov et al. (2005)
https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2005GL022490

• Sea surface temperature at record high
https://arctic-news.blogspot.com/2023/03/sea-surface-temperature-at-record-high.html

• Record high North Atlantic sea surface temperature