Barents Sea seems to have crossed a climate tipping point: This is probably what a climate tipping point looks like—and we're past it
There's lots to amuse in this article. One of those dread tipping points happened and nobody noticed! What if all future tipping points are like that? Does it matter if nobody notices? Al Gore tried to frighten us with tales of sea levels rising by 20 feet -- or was it 100 feet? You would certainly notice that happening but this is laughably insignificant by comparison. Will future sea level rises also be not noticeable?
And then we are told that this tragic event happened only after 2011. But Warmists say that global warming started from 1945 on. So can this be a global warming effect when for most of the alleged warm period nothing of this frightening process happened? The authors just explain the lateness of the change as a "tipping point" but that is just glib. There is no known process leading up to it nor was it predicted. It is just being wise after the event. Nobody in fact knows what caused the change. Best guess is that it has to do with changes in ocean currents -- which do change a lot in the North Atlantic region. Currents are at least an explanation. A tipping point is just a description masquerading as an explanation.
And it appears that what has actually occurred is some melting of sea ice. But melting sea ice will not raise the sea level by one iota. Al Gore will not be happy! And what caused the melting of the sea ice at this late juncture? Crickets! Could it have been an upsurge in the well-known subsurface vulcanism in the Arctic? Along the Gakkel ridge, for instance?
I like the last two paragraphs below. We learn that the change is not a bad thing as it will lead to better fishing. We also read: "The future will be the sum of these events and their interactions, making it a bit harder to predict which changes we should be planning for". So the future is hard to predict! If only more Warmists saw that!
Many of the threats we know are associated with climate change are slow moving. Gradually rising seas, a steady uptick in extreme weather events, and more all mean that change will come gradually to much of the globe. But we also recognize that there can be tipping points, where certain aspects of our climate system shift suddenly to new behaviors.
The challenge with tipping points is that they're often easiest to identify in retrospect. We have some indications that our climate has experienced them in the past, but reconstructing how quickly a system tipped over or the forces that drove the change can be difficult. Now, a team of Norwegian scientists is suggesting it has watched the climate reach a tipping point: the loss of Arctic sea ice has flipped the Barents Sea from acting as a buffer between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans to something closer to an arm of the Atlantic.
Decades of data
The Norwegian work doesn't rely on any new breakthrough in technology. Instead, it's built on the longterm collection of data. The Barents Sea has been monitored for things like temperature, ice cover, and salinity, in some cases extending back over 50 years. This provides a good baseline to pick up longterm changes. And, in the case of the Barents Sea in particular, it's meant we've happened to have been watching as a major change took place.
The Barents Sea lies north of Norway and Russia, bounded by Arctic islands like Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. To its west is the North Atlantic, and the Arctic Ocean is to its north. And data from prior to the year 2000 indicates that the Barents acted as a buffer between the two oceans.
To the north, the Arctic Ocean has been dominated by sea ice, which spreads into the Barents during the winter. The ice acts as a barrier to exchanging heat with the atmosphere and blocks sunlight from reaching the ocean water, helping keep the Arctic colder in the summer. As it melts, the Barents also creates a layer of fresh water that doesn't mix well with the salt water below it, and it is light enough to remain at the surface. The water of the Atlantic is warmer but saltier and better mixed across its depths.
In between, in the Barents, the two influences create a layer of intermediate water. The Arctic surface water and sea ice helps keep the Barents fresher and cool. And while the Barents is warmed from below by the dense, salty Atlantic water, it's not enough to allow the two layers to mix thoroughly. This helps keep the Barents Sea's surface water cold and fresh, encouraging it to freeze over during the winter.
The researchers behind the new work say that this layered structure was "remarkably stable" from 1970 all the way through 2011. But change started coming to the area even as the layers persisted. The atmosphere over the Arctic has warmed faster than any other region on the planet. In part because of that, the amount of ice covering the Arctic Ocean began to decline dramatically. It reached what were then record lows in 2007 and 2008. As a result, the Barents Sea was relatively ice-free in the Arctic summer, decreasing the fresh water present in the surface layer.
Sea-ice drift into the Barents sea dropped enough so that the 2010-2015 average was 40 percent lower than the 1979-2009 mean. The researchers checked precipitation at some islands on the edge of the Barents Sea, and they confirmed that the loss of fresh water at the surface was due to the loss of ice rather than a change in weather patterns.
(For context, the Barents Sea is essentially ice-free at the moment, even though the melt season typically extends through September.).......
Tip of the ice
From a strictly human-centric position, the changes aren't necessarily a terrible thing. In terms of ecosystems, the authors describe the Barents as "divided into two regions with distinct climate regimes—the north having a cold and harsh Arctic climate and ice-associated ecosystem, while the south has a favorable Atlantic climate with a rich ecosystem and lucrative fisheries." The expansion of these fisheries, while coming at the cost of the native ecosystem, could prove a boon for the countries bordering the region.
But the general gist of the study is considerably more ominous: not only have we discovered a climate tipping point, but we've spotted it after the system has probably already flipped into a new regime. It also provides some sense of what to expect from the future. Rather than seeing the entire planet experience a few dramatic changes, we're likely to see lots of regional tipping points that have more of a local effect. The future will be the sum of these events and their interactions, making it a bit harder to predict which changes we should be planning for.