Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar Center

I’m working with John Cook of Skeptical Science blog, interviewing an amazing list of some of the most productive researchers in the most critical areas of climate science.
We’ve been completely bowled over by the energy the subjects have brought to this project. Everyone has been on their “A” game.

Lonnie Thompson, above, makes a pretty good example.
In his 70s, with a new heart transplant, Dr. Thompson has just returned from his 58th(!) trip to New Guinea glaciers, where he was working at the 20,000 foot level with his team, gathering records from rapidly vanishing tropical glaciers that will soon be gone. The only records we will ever have.
Dr. Thompson described the urgency of the problem, as tropical glaciers disappear, of maintaining water supplies to populations that have depended on them for millennia.


Katharine Hayhoe

I first interviewed Katharine Hayhoe a few years ago, shortly after she had come under attack by right wing radio shouter Rush Limbaugh as a “climate babe”.
Since then, she has been named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, for her outreach, as a scientist, to her fellow Christian evangelicals.


Eric Rignot

Dr. Eric Rignot is a glaciologist, highly esteemed in his community, working for NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.
His study last spring stunned the world with the confirmation that huge sections of the Antarctic Ice Sheet are now committed to collapsing into the sea, the only question being, how long it will take – an issue I covered in my video below.

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Seth Borenstein of AP reports from AGU.


In the spring and summer of 2014, Earth’s icy northern region lost more of its signature whiteness that reflects the sun’s heat. It was replaced temporarily with dark land and water that absorbs more energy, keeping yet more heat on already warming planet, according to the Arctic report card issued Thursday.

Spring snow cover in Eurasia reached a record low in April. Arctic summer sea ice, while not setting a new record, continued a long-term, steady decline. And Greenland set a record in August for the least amount of sunlight reflected in that month, said the peer-reviewed report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies.

Overall, the report card written by 63 scientists from 13 countries shows few single-year dramatic changes, unlike other years.

“We can’t expect records every year. It need not be spectacular for the Arctic to continue to be changing,” said report lead editor Martin Jeffries, an Arctic scientist for the Office of Naval Research, at a San Francisco news conference Wednesday.

The Arctic’s drop in reflectivity is crucial because “it plays a role like a thermostat in regulating global climate,” Jeffries said, in an interview. As the bright areas are replaced, even temporarily, with dark heat-absorbing dark areas, “That has global implications.”

The world’s thermostat setting gets nudged up a bit because more heat is being absorbed instead of reflected, he said.

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John Abraham in the Guardian:

For those of us fixated on whether 2014 will be the hottest year on record, the results are in. At least, we know enough that we can make the call. According theglobal data from NOAA, 2014 will be the hottest year ever recorded.

I can make this pronouncement even before the end of the year because each month, I collect daily global average temperatures. So far, December is running about 0.5°C above the average. The climate and weather models predict that the next week will be about 0.75°C above average. This means, December will come in around 0.6°C above average. Are these daily values accurate? Well the last two months they have been within 0.05°C of the final official results.

What does this all mean? Well, when I combine December with the year-to-date as officially reported, I predict the annual temperature anomaly will be 0.674°C. This beats the prior record by 0.024°C. That is a big margin in terms of global temperatures.

For those of us who are not fixated on whether any individual year is a record but are more concerned with trends, this year is still important. Particularly because according to those who deny the basic physics and our understanding of climate change, this year wasn’t supposed to be particularly warm.

For those who thought that climate change was “natural” and driven by ocean currents, this has been a tough year. For instance, using NOAA standards, this year didn’t even have an El Niño. NOAA defines an El Niño as 5 continuous/overlapping 3-month time periods wherein a particular region in the Pacific has temperatures elevated more than 0.5oC.

NOAA is more cautious, but with most of December behind us, an announcement seems imminent.

With November’s temperature numbers in the books, 2014 is on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, newly released data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show.

During the month, the patterns that have been in place for much of the year held fast: While the eastern U.S. was plunged into a deep freeze, the world as a whole continued warming, fueled by the rise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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New study in Nature Climate Change on melt in Greenland.
Compare to our Dark Snow video from this past summer, above.

NBC News:

Existing computer models may be severely underestimating the risk to Greenland’s ice sheet — which would add 20 feet to sea levels if it all melted — from warming temperatures, according to two studies released Monday.

Satellite data were instrumental for both studies — one which concludes that Greenland is likely to see many more lakes that speed up melt, and the other which better tracks large glaciers all around Earth’s largest island.

The lakes study, published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change, found that what are called “supraglacial lakes” have been migrating inland since the 1970s as temperatures warm, and could double on Greenland by 2060.

The study upends models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change because they “didn’t allow for lake spreading, so the work has to be done again,” study co-author Andrew Shepherd, director of Britain’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, told

Those lakes can speed up ice loss since, being darker than the white ice, they can absorb more of the sun’s heat and cause melting. The melt itself creates channels through the ice sheet to weaken it further, sending ice off the sheet and into the ocean.

“When you pour pancake batter into a pan, if it rushes quickly to the edges of the pan, you end up with a thin pancake,” study lead author Amber Leeson, a researcher at Britain’s University of Leeds, explained in a statement. “It’s similar to what happens with ice sheets: The faster it flows, the thinner it will be.

“When the ice sheet is thinner,” she added, “it is at a slightly lower elevation and at the mercy of warmer air temperatures than it would have been if it were thicker, increasing the size of the melt zone around the edge of the ice sheet.”

From the paper:

Our study demonstrates that (supra glacial lakes) large enough to drain will in fact spread far into the ice-sheet interior as climate warms, which suggests that projections of the ice-sheet dynamical imbalance should be revised to account for the expected evolution in their distribution. Establishing the degree to which the inland spread of SGLs will affect future ice-sheet motion is now a matter of considerable concern.

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The US/China climate agreement is a game changer, for a lot of reasons. Below, some analysis from Climate Progress. Above, my video on the subject, probably the first of several.

One aspect that has not been well explored in the media, is that this is a deal that China needs – not because they want to score PR points, not because they want to look like a responsible world power, and not even, primarily, because they are all that concerned about climate change (although, increasingly, they are..)

They need to change the course they are on because the breakneck development of fossil fuels has put them on a collision course with some very, very hard physical limits – in particular, water.  In addition, they are looking at pollution problems that have become so severe, they are now a primary source of political unrest.  And this generation of Chinese leaders remembers how rough things can get in China in a period of unrest.
For the video above, I sampled the media sphere for pieces of the narrative, as usual, and I interviewed Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s best recognized experts on water resources, and Keith Schneider, a long time New York Times writer, currently global correspondent for Circle of Blue, an NGO dealing in the nexus of water, climate and energy.


“Renewable and nuclear energy accounted for 9.8 percent of China’s energy mix in 2013,” said Melanie Hart, the Director for China Policy at the Center for American Progress. “They have just promised to double that by 2030. That target will light a fire under China’s already-aggressive renewable deployments and put even stronger limits on coal and other fossil-fuels.”

Experts did tell Reuters that the emission reductions China needs to meet this deal are not too far off from the course it’s already projected to maintain. That said, the Chinese government and its officials have raised the peak goal as a possibility before, but coming from Jinping himself, Wednesday’s deal constitutes the most robust commitment China has ever made.

“It’s the agreement that people have been waiting for, for a long time,”said Jake Schmidt, director of the International Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “It’s the two biggest emitters, the two largest economies, the two biggest drags on agreement over the years. For them to step up and say we’re going to take deep actions, it will send a powerful signal to countries around the word.”

Republicans and other skeptics of climate policy have long pointed to China’s reluctance to cut its emissions as a reason the U.S. should not bother either.

But the President has argued that as the world’s second-largest emitter currently, and by far its largest historically, the U.S. cannot expect other countries to act if it does not demonstrate good faith by stepping forward. Hence the suite of executive actions Obama announced in his second term to cut U.S. emissions, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently rule for power plants as its centerpiece. As such, Wednesday’s deal also marks an at least partial vindication of Obama’s strategy.


The Chinese government announced Wednesday it would cap coal use by 2020. The Chinese State Council, or cabinet, said the peak would be 4.2 billion tonnes, a one-sixth increase over current consumption.

This is a staggering reversal of Chinese energy policy, which for two decades has been centered around building a coal plant or more a week. Now they’ll be building the equivalent in carbon-free power every week for decades, while the construction rate of new coal plants decelerates like a crash-test dummy.

The 2020 coal peak utterly refutes the GOP claim that China’s recent climate pledge “requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years.” Indeed, independent analyses make clear a 2020 coal peak announcement was the inevitable outcome of China’s game-changing climate deal deal with the U.S. last week, where China agreed to peak its total carbon pollution emissions in 2030 — or earlier.

We already knew that China’s energy commitment to “increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030” was going to require a staggering rate of deployment for carbon free energy. It means adding some 800-1,000 gigawatts of zero-carbon power in 16 years, which, the White House notes, is “more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States.”

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Nothing to see here, move along.


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