I just witnessed the unveiling of an important new report, sponsored and presented by Al Gore and Gro Harlem Brundtland (yes, that Brundtland), Greenland Ice Sheet – Melting Snow and Ice: Calls for Action. Other global heavyweights that presented were the world-renowned scientist Dorthe Dahl-Jensen, the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere, and Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist. It was a standing room only event with many more waiting outside the venue doors.
Dorthe Dahl-Jensen summarized the scientific data behind “The Greenland Ice Sheet in a Changing Climate: Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic” (SWIPA 2009). In brief, the situation is much more dire than laid out in IPCC AP4. The AP4 predicted the Greenland ice sheet melting at 160 gigatonnes a year leading to a sea-level rise (SLR) of 0.5 mm per year. However, observations from 2007 show a loss of 260 gigatonnes of ice. This is leading to an observed SLR of 1mm per year. Importantly, sea-level rise is not distributed evenly around the globe, thus leading to extreme vulnerabilities to both developing and developed coastal communities. Ms. Dahl-Jensen’s take home message is recognition that we have awoken the giants. The Greenland and Artic ice sheets are literally melting in front of our eyes (she shows a dramatic 3 minute video documenting this); second, SLR is accelerating beyond anything imaginable. The IPCC AP4 report was relatively modest in its predictions; and third, (voice cracking) the scientists who wrote the paper are calling for nations to act now. (I cannot recall ever seeing a scientist, never mind one of this caliber, come to near tears before). There was an equally impassioned applause from the attendees.
After Ms. Dahl-Jensen spoke, the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Per Stig Møller, addressed the audience briefly with a political statement, outlining his country’s position on climate change action. He highlighted the need for green growth, and stressed that both mitigation and adaptation are going to be necessary moving forward.
Next, Greenland’s Premier Kuupik Kleist, in a four minute prepared speech, seemed to subtly suggest that the two-track approach of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) is the method that should be used in the climate negotiations going forward when he said that “we have common but differentiated goals,” a standard tag-line from the KP itself. (He also mentioned opening up mining and hydrocarbons from newly exposed lands, but I could not hear him very well over the pshaws in the back of the room).
The Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, gave a short political statement similar to Greenland’s premier.
Next up was an incredible presentation by the US scientific team, “Melting Snow and Ice,” by Dr. Bob Corell. His PowerPoint summarized the new science with respect to arctic ice melts, sea level rise, CO2 levels (now predicted to far exceed 500ppm). He also presented on what has changed since the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report.
He stressed that a one degree increase is a serious threat, and that the new scientific information shown today for the first time has completely changed the global context.
AR4 showed a CO2 concentration of 387ppm, trending as high as 500pm by 2050. This is now considered outdated data. There is an observed and clearly measurable acceleration of CO2 ppm now and 85% is from fossil fuels burned by humans.
To alarmed (but whisper quiet) gasps in the room, he announced that the ocean, forests and other plants that used to absorb most of the atmosphere’s CO2 are no longer capable of doing so (e.g., CO2 is now observed to be exceeding capacity for absorption).
He then moved on to show that ice is pulling back and thinning at observed rates that exceed any previously widely used models. Also revised is the impact of the ice-albedo effect data, which helps relfect the sun’s heat back and away fron the earth. As a result, new (to modern times) sea-ways are opening up, and lasting from a previous few weeks to a now observed few months – these passages are expected to be permanent soon (such as the Northwest Passage). All of this information was not in the previous reports (e.g., scientific data modeling). The bottom line is that by 2030 at the current pace, the Greenland and Arctic ice sheets will be completely eliminated.
He mentioned several human impacts now being observed and documented for the first time on hunters and Inuit populations. The ice in several hunting grounds are no longer safe to cross and hunters and sled dogs are sadly being killed by falling through the ice (he shows incredible pictures of stranded hunters dogs on floating ice). Also, observations in the Himalayas show that less water is being produced by ice-melt, ice-melt which provides water for about half the world’s population. Tens of thousands of people are moving away from the slopes into more populated villages and urban areas. He mentions that this lack of water also impacts ecosystems in untold ways; all of this is now being measured and documented.
Finally,Al Gore presented for 15 minutes, and included several scientific data points that were just released today and two days ago by a scientist he works closely with (didn’t catch the name). Gore drove the point (rather tongue in cheek) that this meeting/presentation was not coverage of the serious issues of ocean acidification, increased wildfires, weak GHG policies, human migration, or environmental justice issues, but rather the dangers of ice melt and sea level rise. He stressed again that one degree Fahrenheit makes a significant difference to the health and welfare of human populations and ecosystems.
In familiar Gorian PowerPoint style, he showed that, since 2005, the area of ice that has melted in the Arctic is equivalent to the size of the U.S. minus roughly Arizona (stressing in area, not volume or thickness). New volumetric data came out just out two days ago and will be presented to the public in greater detail soon.
New ice melt models by Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski show there is a 75% chance that the entire cap could be ice-free during summer months within 5-7 years. He noted that in Bob Corell’s presentation, this scenario predicted ice-free summers by 2030, but Gore corrects with Dr. Maslowski data. Gore then showed an intense video of methane burning from a hole in the ice (couldn’t tell from where but looks like the arctic sheet and not land ice such as Siberia). The video also showed fast flowing, chunky glacial melt water in Greenland, which is now basically a new large river. Gore also mentioned the Maldivian cabinet meeting that was held underwater, which was clever, but also a sobering and serious cry for help.
Next, he showed a current impact reported in today’s New York Times here, where La Paz and El Alto depend on glaciers for drinking water that are currently melting. Local Peruvians are now moving out of their traditional homes because the water is no longer there. In the U.S., much water from Alaska and Canada provides drinking water for millions and are also predicted to lose volumes.
Finally, Gro Harlem Brundtland was presented with an award and made a terse comment that action is needed now, and world leaders need to recognize this moment of truth.
I note that at the start of the final week of COP15 negotiations, nothing significant has been accomplished. (Special thanks to Anna Ellis for live editing).