Scientists fear Greenland’s melting ice sheet could generate more sea level rise than previously thought, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase and warm the atmosphere at their current rate, according to a new modeling study. Paradoxically, one of Greenland's most significant glaciers actually has experienced growth during the last three years, according to NASA.
The modeling study was prepared by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, using data from specialized aircraft forming part of NASA's Operation IceBridge. The new model shows that if Greenland's ice continues melting at its present rate it could contribute 19 to 63 inches to global sea level rise in the next 200 years. These estimates represent an 80 percent increase over previous forecasts.
Meanwhile, the Jakobshavn Glacier — Greenland's fastest-moving and fastest-thinning glacier for most of the 2000s — grew from 2018 into 2019, marking three consecutive years of growth. The glacier grew 22 to 33 yards each year between 2016 and 2019. Scientists attribute the growth to a key ocean current which has been colder than it was prior to 2016, when the glacier's growth began. The colder water is not melting the ice from the front and underneath the glacier as quickly as the warmer water did. Importantly, although the melting rate has slowed, the glacier continues to contribute to sea level rise, ultimately losing more ice to the ocean than it gains from snow accumulation overall.
2017 ranked as the third hottest year ever recorded in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The average U.S. temperature in 2017 was 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.6 degrees F above average, making 2017 third warmest year since records began in 1895, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. For the third consecutive year, every state across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska had an above-average annual temperature.
In fact, the five warmest years on record for the U.S. all have occurred since 2006. 2017 was also was the 21st consecutive year that the annual average temperature exceeded the average. Five states – Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina – had their warmest year ever recorded.
Records collected across the globe prove that surface temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere set new highs during 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, providing further evidence of a warming planet. As previously reported on The Plain Facts, global surface temperatures in 2016 were the highest on record, the third straight year of record-setting temperatures. Also, concentrations of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide, rose to record high values in 2016. The global annual average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was 402.9 parts per million (ppm), surpassing 400 ppm for the first time in the modern atmospheric measurement record, and surpassing the carbon dioxide concentration in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years. This was the largest annual increase observed in 58 years of record keeping.
Sea levels kept increasing in 2016, with the global average sea level rising to a new record high in 2016. This increase was about 3.25 inches higher than the 1993 average, the year that marks the beginning of the satellite altimeter record. This increase also marks the sixth consecutive year that global sea level has increased compared to the previous year. Over the past two decades, the sea level has increased at an average rate of about 0.13 inch per year, with the highest rates of increase in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.
These findings come from the State of the Climate report just published by the American Meteorological Society. The report is led by editors from NOAA, and combines the findings of nearly 500 scientists from more than 60 countries around the world and reflects tens of thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets.
Fossil fuels -- petroleum, natural gas, and coal -- accounted for 81% of U.S. energy consumption in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That's actually the lowest percentage in the last 100 years. Renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind power, added 10.5%, the most significant share for these sources since the 1930s. The decline in consumption of fossil fuels resulted primarily from the decline in coal consumption. U.S. coal consumption fell nearly 9% in 2016, following a 14% drop in 2015. Overall, U.S. coal consumption has declined almost 38% since 2005. Petroleum, which encompasses nearly all transportation fuels and several petroleum-based fuels used in homes, businesses, and industries, continues to be the largest source of energy consumption in the United States. Petroleum consumption has increased in each of the past four years. Consumption of natural gas has risen in 9 of the past 10 years. As recently as 2006, the United States consumed more coal than natural gas (in energy-equivalent terms), but as natural gas consumption has increased—particularly in the electric power sector—natural gas use in 2016 was about twice that of coal.
Temperatures across the U.S. continue rising, except in portions of the Southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The map above shows pervasive warming surface air temperatures across the country during the last 100 years. However, portions of the Southeast have seen little increase in surface air temperatures, or even a slight decrease. Globally, every decade since 1960 has been warmer than the last, and the last three decades each have been the warmest on record. The U.S. saw its second warmest January through June in 2017, only slightly behind the record year of 2012. According to NOAA, during this six month period, nine weather events occurred causing a at least a billion dollars of damage each. NASA explains that a change in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius, or about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, could mean that heat waves will last longer, rainstorm intensity will increase, and coral reefs could be wiped-out.
After decades of seeming to buck the climate change trend by experiencing moderate increases in sea ice, Antarctica's sea ice recently fell to its lowest extent ever recorded. March 3, 2017 marked the lowest sea ice extent recorded for Antarctica since 1979, when NASA began regularly mapping sea ice at both poles. This year’s record low happened just two years after several monthly record high sea ice extents in Antarctica and decades of moderate sea ice growth. In fact, NASA scientists believe that snow and ice began accumulating on Antarctica 10,000 years ago.
The Antarctic ice sheet, together with the Greenland ice sheet, comprise 99 percent of the world's freshwater sea ice. The Antarctic ice sheet covers roughly 5.4 million square miles, or the about the size of the United States and Mexico combined. This information comes from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, an organization supported by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Science Foundation.
Natural gas now supplies more fuel for generating electricity than coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural gas fueled 34% of total electricity generation in 2016, marking the first time natural gas led coal on an annual basis. Natural gas first beat coal as the most common electricity fuel on a monthly basis in April 2015. The use of coal to generate electricity has tumbled 35 percent since 2008. Most coal consumed in the United States, 93 percent, goes to generate electricity.
As the use of coal declines, so have the jobs associated with coal. Coal mining jobs have fallen from a high of almost 90,000 in November 2011, to about 51,000 today, according the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The rise in the share of natural gas used to generate electricity resulted from more competitive prices for natural gas, and expanded capacity to utilize natural gas. Between 2000 and 2008, coal was significantly less expensive than natural gas, and coal supplied about 50% of total U.S. electricity generation. However, beginning in 2009, the gap between coal and natural gas prices narrowed, as large amounts of natural gas was produced from shale formations. Further, more natural gas plants have come online; now, every state except Vermont has at least one natural gas plant. The Energy Information Administration also indicates that environmental regulations affecting power plants have played a secondary role in driving coal's declining generation share over the past decade
Most Americans are concerned about global warming, according to a recent survey published by the respected Brookings Institution. The survey found 54 percent of Americans "very concerned" and 32 percent "somewhat concerned." The percentage of Americans "very concerned" about global warming increased 11 percent in less than a year.
Interestingly, climate scientists generally agree that the earth actually cooled between 1940 and 1970, before beginning its dramatic increase, according to NASA. NASA reports that the average global temperature on Earth has increased about 1.4 degrees since 1880, with two-thirds of the warming occurring since 1975. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years in the last 136 years all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998. The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record.
The United States produced more oil and gas in 2016 than any other nation in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Even though production declined in 2015, the U.S. led the world in oil and gas production for the fifth straight year. The U.S. produced more petroleum products than even Saudi Arabia. Russia actually ranks as the second largest oil and gas producer. The United States has been the world's top producer of natural gas since 2009, when U.S. natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world's top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s. For the United States and Russia, total petroleum and natural gas production is almost evenly split between petroleum and natural gas, while Saudi Arabia's production heavily favors petroleum.
The United States is the second largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to U.S. government statistics. When considering total emissions, the United States ranks second in the world, generating twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as the next largest contributor, India. The United States lags only behind China, which approximately doubles the carbon dioxide output of the United States. When emissions are compared on a per capita basis, the United States ranks 14th in the world, behind several oil producing nations. On the per capita basis, China drops to 48th, and India places at 140th in the world. These are the latest statistics from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a research facility operated under the U.S. Department of Energy.
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