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18 Signs That Show We've Reached the Tipping Point

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5. A Large Increase in Methane Emissions

Methane is more than 100 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than CO2 in the 20-year short term time frame where abrupt changes pose the most risk. Research from Harvard and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs reports that U.S. methane emissions have increased by more than 30 percent over the 2002–2014 period. The increase is greatest in the central part of the country, but no individual source was as yet discernable and was not readily attributable to any specific source type. These researchers say the emissions could account for 30-60 percent of the global growth of atmospheric methane during this period. While fracked gas is obviously the source, attribution in these atmospheric studies is more complicated.

6. Global Warming Psychology

Work from Yale, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, continues a trend of defining the culpability of the so-called Climate Change Counter Movement (CCCM) in obfuscating climate science. This work looked at 164 organizations identified in other academic literature as being involved in the CCCM between 1993-2013 and included 40,785 pieces of textual content and more than 39 million words. Two main findings emerged: Organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have distributed content meant to polarize the climate change issue; and corporate funding influences the actual thematic content of these polarization efforts, confirming previous work showing the CCCM to be at the root of climate change politics and discourse.

7. NOAA Ice-Sheet Collapse Warning

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says (NOAA) it takes 10 years or more for new science to go from conception to acceptance by the consensus. This "warning" implies the Antarctic, and particularly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), is likely the most important part of climate change as sea level rise greater than three feet per century is beyond the rate at which our civilization can adapt. NOAA's ostensible warning suggests that in the very near future, we will see new modeling that shows 10 feet of abrupt sea level rise by 2050 to 2060 from collapse of the WAIS. This means coastal infrastructure that represents a disproportionate piece of the global economy will be submerged or degenerated to the point of dysfunction, with plausible global economic breakdown.

Extremely salient to this ostensible "warning": prehistoric evidence of such ice-sheet collapse, not represented by modeling, is common, and at its most extreme is represented by 6.5 to 10 feet of sea level rise in 12 to 24 years at Xcaret Reef on the Yucatan Peninsula 121,000 years ago, from research out of the Autonomous University of Mexico and the German Science Institute in 2009 by Paul Blanchon, et al.

8. Antarctic Ice Shelves Deteriorating Rapidly

Early this year, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego showed Antarctic ice shelf volume decline from zero to 300 cubic kilometers in about the last 20 years. The loss is caused by thinning, mostly from melt below the surface. Ice loss was led by the WAIS, which increased by 70 percent in the last 10 years of the study. At its greatest, the under-ice melt rate is up to 100 meters per year (328 feet).

9. Ocean Heat Content Doubles in Recent Decades

The above research from Scripps Institute is proven through data collection that dates back as far as the extraordinary 18th century (1872-76) circumpolar ocean science expedition of the HMS Challenger led by Captain George Nares. Work from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Princeton, NOAA and Penn State shows that nearly half of the industrial-era increase in global ocean heat content has occurred in recent decades, with over a third of the accumulated heat occurring below 700 meters.

10. First Tipping Point Timeline for Collapse of the WAIS

Research out of the German National Science Institute first described a very distinct tipping point with the WAIS where collapse becomes irreversible in about 2050 to 2060. The very important take-away from this work is that to prevent ice-sheet collapse, we must return ocean temperature to its preindustrial stable temperature by 2050. The challenge here is that it is much more difficult to cool the oceans than it is the atmosphere. See here for an in-depth article in Truthout about the WAIS and the ability of current policy to prevent what would be the largest and most impactful climate change reality of our time.

11. Dynamical Ice-Sheet Collapse Modeling Arrives

Consensus climate projections have not, up to now, included abrupt sea level rise, because it has not yet been modeled. But this is changing. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Penn State (DeConto and Pollard) have for the first time modeled marine ice sheet collapse physics with results that begin to show what ice-sheet collapse might have looked like in the distant past. These physics include hydrofracturing of buttressing ice shelves (melt water heavier than ice that forces crevasses open) and structural collapse of marine-terminating ice cliffs where 200 to 300 feet is as tall as an ice cliff can get before it collapses under its own weight. This has very important implications for the WAIS—which rises 6,000 feet above sea level and whose bed rests on the ocean floor 3,000 feet below sea level—where crushed ice debris from collapse can be rapidly washed away from the collapsing ice face by ocean waters.

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