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AGU conference 2013: Bye-bye Arctic, hello extreme climate change

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At the 2013 AGU conference held in San Francisco this week, Professor Peter Wadhams laid out the case for the Arctic, going into detail about the retreat of the Arctic ice and the cost to society for the soon to be ice-free area. Speaking at the Moscone West building Tuesday morning about climate change, the affable professor showed a series of slides showing the retreat of the Arctic and what lies ahead for our warming world, also bringing up the famous "Arctic Death Spiral" graph which shows the rapid decline of ice in the Northern hemisphere.

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At the AGU (American Geophysical Union) conference this week, Wadhams was among 22,000 Earth and space scientists, educators, students, and other leaders in San Francisco who gathered together to present groundbreaking research and connect with colleagues.

As part of the climate change sessions at the AGU conference, Professor Wadhams explained his findings in detail. Wadhams, well known and respected among his peers for his research in the Arctic, is best known for his work on sea ice. The session Wadhams gave yesterday was titled: "The cost to society of a methane outbreak from the East Siberian shelf."

Wadhams, professor of Ocean Physics, and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge, is also the president of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans Commission on Sea Ice and Coordinator for the International Programme for Antarctic Buoys.

Wadhams remarks at yesterdays session laid out some very unsettling facts about the Arctic. For those following climate change, this came as no surprise. The Arctic has been in a death spiral for several years, actually starting back as early as the 1950's, but the last several years of retreating ice have surprised some scientists, researchers and observers. A video by composer/pianist Andy Lee Robinson received alot of attention last year when it came out, showing stunning visuals of just how fast the Arctic has melted. An updated version of the video for 2013 is available to watch in this article.

Wadhams also shared his concern about current Arctic amplification caused by a 3 degree temperature rise in some areas of the Arctic, far above the expected 1 degree rise. Arctic amplification, also known as polar amplification, is the greater temperature increases in the Arctic compared to the earth as a whole as a result of the effect of feedbacks and other processes. Arctic amplification has been linked to extreme weather in mid-latitudes - and has been linked to the growing extreme weather disasters around the world like Typhoon Yolanda, Super-storm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, among many others.

Wadhams, among his many other accomplishments, was also a review editor on the new Working Group I in the IPCC report on climate change which was released this year. He was so upset about certain aspects of the last IPCC assessment in 2007 that he decided to be part of the working process on the newest report.

The IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reported this year in their 2,000 page report that there is still a "alot of uncertainty in its models."

Professor Wadham, still very concerned about the IPCC climate reports, referred to the IPCC modeling yesterday as "dodgy math." This concern has also been growing among his peers, inciting some to even demand that the IPCC include and factor in the effects of growing amounts of methane being released from the Arctic sea, due to the loss of Arctic ice.

Prior IPCC reports have also been under fire, being wrong numerous times in their projections. According to Scientific American in its article "Climate Science Predictions Prove Too Conservative":

"In the 2007 report, the IPCC concluded the Arctic would not lose its summer ice before 2070 at the earliest. But the ice pack has shrunk far faster than any scenario scientists felt policymakers should consider; now researchers say the region could see ice-free summers within 20 years."

Current projections according to Wadhams and others see a total collapse of the Arctic sea ice even sooner than that - in fact as soon as 2-3 years from now, blowing the IPCC projected models out of the water. Last year Wadhams had this is say in an article reported in the Guardian:

“This collapse, I predicted would occur in 2015-16 at which time the summer Arctic (August to September) would become ice-free. The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates.”

Gary Houser, public interest writer and documentary producer focusing on climate issues and the "sleeping giant" of Arctic methane in particular, had this to say in a recent article at the Arctic News:

"The scale of this threat is mind-boggling. There is over three times more heating power stored in this "permafrost" than that which has been caused by human greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of the industrial age - and this refers only to that located on land (as opposed to the coastal seabeds). This stockpile includes super greenhouse gas methane, acknowledged even by the IPCC itself to be a stunning 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a warming agent over 20 years (with climate-carbon feedbacks).

Despite a formal appeal by scientists specializing in permafrost study that IPCC issue a special assessment drawing attention to this tremendous danger, the recently released report neglected to do so. The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that due to bureaucratic delays and a log-jam in the processing of cutting edge data,"the cut-off date meant the authors were unable to evaluate recent, but very worrying, studies that say methane trapped in ice-bound coasts in northeast Siberia is being released as seas warm, thus putting the greenhouse effect into higher gear."

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas with up to 100 times the warming capabilities of carbon dioxide, will cause our warming world to warm even faster, causing abrupt and runaway climate change. Many feel that methane, previously trapped in Arctic permafrost and in the Arctic ocean, will be the game changer for Earth, up to and including the possible extinction of life on Earth.

In short, it looks like we can say good-bye to the Arctic and hello to a whole new wave of uncertainties, a concern shared by many in the scientific community, not to mention the astounding costs of climate change that society will bear in the coming years.

Today, members of AMEG, the Arctic Emergency Methane Group, will be meeting in San Francisco with Professor Wadhams to discuss the growing threat of methane from the loss of the Arctic ice. The group will also be looking at possible geo-engineering ideas to avert climate change disaster.

We will be looking at the costs of climate change for society from Professor Wadhams session in my next report.

Join Citizens Concerned about Climate Change to receive alerts about extreme weather and updated news on climate change.

You can follow Dorsi Diaz on Twitter and also here at HubPages where she publishes articles about climate change and educating through art.

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