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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

IPCC Reports on Oceans and Cryosphere

Watching the Permafrost Thaw; Man Heats Ocean First

A collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska. See more at (on.doi.gov/arctic-coastal). Credit: U.S. Geological Survey.

J.D. Kaplan

In the last issue of G.E.T., I took it upon myself to profile the latest report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body concerned with climatic changes. It is a policy document, but you only have to breathe air for this panel’s work to be relevant to you.

IPCC groups continually assess the mass of academic work that concerns Earth’s fluid and living systems. Their latest release was timed to coincide with student protests. The Special Report on the Ocean & Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) would, then, lend informative support to go with a demand for attention to the changes we face.

The SROCC exposes the oceans, of course, and our cryosphere. This is the frozen matter at our poles: snow, glaciers, ice sheets, icebergs, ice at the surface of seas, ice atop rivers and lakes, and ice that reaches deeper than the layers on top. It also includes areas under permafrost, which is important to the projections of carbon in the air, and which is thawing visibly in some places. Permafrost is frozen ground that starts at ground level and may reach as deep as a kilometer.

Any major document dropped by the IPCC is an education, if you’re willing to learn from it. SROCC assesses “the latest on the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems,” as well as the folks who live with them. Plans and pitfalls are explored, and then projections are made.

Anyone can take a quick look at the Fact Sheet, which I recommend. For now, I’d like to share two axioms from the SROCC that I see as invaluable for readers.

Number one is that the oceans have absorbed over 90% of the heat we have added to Earth’s systems. That includes our CO₂ trapping as well as everything else. We have been heating the oceans, primarily.

Another group, Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy (OSIP), asserts that “complex interactions between continued emissions of greenhouse gases, consequent energy imbalance, and changes in the storage and transport properties of heat in the ocean will largely determine the speed and magnitude of long-term [sic] anthropogenic climate change impacts.” In short: Deep in the water is where it all happens.

All the heat we trap in the atmosphere may be subject to the oceans’ propensity to move it around the globe. These rates vary, as do the absorption activities in differing ocean surface conditions. Accurate projections depend upon these rates – SROCC explains what, exactly, makes the long-term behavior of our atmosphere so hard to nail down.

Sea level rise projections fall to this mechanism of uncertainty, too. Measuring up to about 4mm per year, we observe two main contributors. Only one of them is the glaciers.

Number two is, essentially, that water expands when you heat it. Hotter water just takes up more space. According to the IPCC this accounts for 1.4mm in sustained sea level rise per year, whereas the meltwater directly adds about 1.8mm. This makes glaciers and ice sheets the dominant factor behind sustained average rise.

The SROCC is based upon nearly seven thousand other academic studies. In that way, it is a supreme meta-review. Interest in climatic changes has burgeoned over the past few decades, and these reports draw on the strength of what has emerged. However, governments have only just begun to stand on these findings, as they vie for ways to respond to climates in flux.

The chair of the committee, Mr. Hoesung Lee, insists that the choices of policymakers depend upon a thorough assessment of the global situation. To empower them to do so was the reason cited for bringing the report to completion just as organizers around the globe would march to demand more of their governments. The SROCC launch was held in Monaco on the same weekend. This was done to maximize political attention and to deliver these crucial messages to power brokers. Let us hope they will hear them clearly and act without bias.

J. D. Kaplan is a certified remote pilot and a former member of the I.T. crowd. He is a reader in the areas of bioelectromagnetics and cryptocurrency. For G.E.T. readers, Mr. Kaplan intends to profile blockchain activity within the energy sector. He lives and works at or above sea level near Boston, MA.

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