The scale and rate of modern climate change have been underestimated.
The release to date of a total of over 500 billion ton (GtC) of carbon through emissions, land clearing and fires, has raised CO2 levels to 397-400 ppm and near 470 ppm CO2-e [a value including methane] at a rate of ~2 ppm CO2 per year  (Figures 1 and 2). These developments are shifting the Earth’s climate toward Pliocene-like (5.2 – 2.6 million years-ago [Ma]; +2-3oC) conditions and possibly mid-Miocene-like (~16 Ma; +4oC) conditions , within a couple of centuries―a geological blink of an eye.
The current CO2 level generates amplifying feedbacks from the ice/water transformation and albedo loss, methane release from permafrost, methane clathrates and bogs, from droughts and loss of vegetation cover, from fires and from reduced CO2 sequestration by warming water.
With CO2 atmospheric residence times in the order of thousands to tens of thousands years , protracted reduction in emissions, either flowing from human decision or due to reduced economic activity in an environmentally stressed world, may no longer be sufficient to arrest the feedbacks.
Four of the large mass extinction events in the history of Earth (end-Devonian, Permian-Triassic, end-Triassic, K-T boundary) have been associated with rapid perturbations of the carbon, oxygen and sulphur cycles, on which the biosphere depends, at rates to which species could not adapt .
Since the 18th century, and in particular since about 1975, the Earth system has been shifting away from Holocene (10,000 years to the present) conditions, which allowed agriculture, previously not possible due to instabilities in the climate and extreme weather events. The shift is most clearly manifested by the loss of polar ice  (Figure 3). Sea level rises have been accelerating, with a total of more than 20 cm since 1880 and about 6 cm since 1990 ..
For temperature rise of 2.3oC, to which the climate is committed if sulphur aerosol emission discontinues (see Figure 1), sea levels would reach Pliocene like levels of 25+/-12 meters, with lag effects due to ice sheet hysteresis.
With global CO2-e levels at ~470 ppm, just under the upper stability limit of the Antarctic ice sheet, current rate of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production, land clearing and fires of ~9.7 GtC in 2010  , global civilization is at a tipping point, facing the following alternatives:
- With carbon reserves sufficient to raise atmospheric CO2 levels to above 1000 ppm (Figure 4), continuing business-as-usual emissions can only result in advanced melting of the polar ice sheets, a corresponding rise of sea levels on the scale of meters to tens of meters and continental temperatures rendering agriculture unlikely.
- With atmospheric CO2 at ~400 ppm, abrupt decrease in carbon emissions may no longer be sufficient to prevent current feedbacks (melting of ice, methane release from permafrost, fires). Attempts to stabilize the climate would require global efforts at CO2 draw-down, using a range of methods including global reforestation, extensive biochar application, chemical CO2 sequestration (using sodium hydroxide, serpentine and new innovations) and burial of CO2 
As indicated in Table 1, the use of short-term solar radiation shields such as sulphur aerosols cannot be regarded as more than a band aid, with severe deleterious consequences in terms of ocean acidification and retardation of the monsoon and of precipitation over large parts of the Earth. Retardation of solar radiation through space sunshades is of limited residence time and would not prevent further acidification from ongoing carbon emission.
Dissemination of ocean iron filings aimed at increasing fertilization by plankton and algal blooms, or temperature exchange through vertical ocean pipe systems, are unlikely to be effective in transporting CO2 to relatively safe water depths.
By contrast to these methods, CO2 sequestration through fast track reforestation, soil carbon, biochar and possible chemical methods such as “sodium trees” and serpentine (combining Ca and Mg with CO2) (Figure 5) may be effective, provided these are applied on a global scale, requiring budgets on a scale of military spending (>$20 trillion since WWII).
Urgent efforts at innovation of new CO2 draw-down methods are essential. It is likely that a species which decoded the basic laws of nature, split the atom, placed a man on the moon and ventured into outer space should also be able to develop the methodology for fast sequestration of atmospheric CO2. The alternative, in terms of global heating, sea level rise, extreme weather events, and the destruction of the world’s food sources is unthinkable.
Good planets are hard to come by.
 IPCC AR4 http://www.ipcc.ch/ ; Global Carbon Project http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/ ; State of the planet declaration http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/
 Zachos, 2001 cmbc.ucsd.edu/content/1/docs/zachos-2001.pdf; Beerling and Royer, 2011 http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v4/n7/fig_tab/ngeo1186_ft.html; PRISM USGS Pliocene Project http://geology.er.usgs.gov/eespteam/prism/
 Eby et al., 2008. geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/eby.2009.long_tail.pdf
 Keller, 2005; Glikson, 2005; Ward, 2007. http://www.amazon.com/Under-Green-Sky-Warming-Extinctions/dp/B002ECEGFC#reader_B002ECEGFC
 Loss of polar ice http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2011/2011GL046583.shtml
 CLIM 012 Assessment Nov 2012; http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/sea-level-rise-1/assessment, Rahmstorf et al., 2012, http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/4/044035/article.
 Raupach, 2011, www.science.org.au/natcoms/nc-ess/documents/ GEsymposium.pdf)
 Geo-engineering the Climate? A Southern Hemisphere perspective. AAS conference www.science.org.au/natcoms/nc-ess/documents/GEsymposium.pdf
Part A. Mean CO2 level from ice cores, Mouna Loa observatory and marine sites;
Part B (inset). Climate forcing 1880 – 2003 (Hansen et al., 2011) http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/ha06510a.html . Aerosol forcing includes all aerosol effects, including indirect effects on clouds and snow albedo. GHGs include O3 and stratospheric H2O, in addition to well-mixed GHGs.
Relations between CO2 rise rates and mean global temperature rise rates during warming periods, including the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Oligocene, Miocene, glacial terminations, Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles and the post-1750 period.
Greenland (a) and Antarctic (b) mass change deduced from gravitational field measurements by
Velicogna (2009) http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/ha05510d.html
CO2 emissions by fossil fuels (1 ppm CO2 ~ 2.12 GtC). Estimated reserves and potentially recoverable resources are from Energy Information Administration (2011) and the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (2011). From Hansen 2012 www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/…/20120130_CowardsPart2.pdf
A schematic representation of various geoengineering and carbon storage proposals.
Diagram by Kathleen Smith/LLNL
By Wynne Parry | livescience.com…
Residents of a town on the western coast of Greenland may have seen the sun peek over the horizon 48 hours earlier than its usual arrival on Jan. 13, sparking speculation, and disagreements, over possible causes.
The town of Ilulissat sits just above the Arctic Circle, meaning its residents had been without any sunlight for a good chunk of the winter, and traditionally they’d expect to see their “first sunrise” on Jan. 13.
News that the sun had peeked over the horizon on Jan. 11 appeared onlinein British and German-language publications and it appears to trace back to a story by the Greenland broadcasting company KNR that quotes residents who noticed the change.
Of about half a dozen scientists contacted, most were unaware of the report, which was circulating on the Internet. They offered a number of hypothetical explanations, including an illusion caused by an atmospheric effect and conflicting opinions about whether global warming might be to blame for melting along the edges of Greenland’s ice sheet. With less ice, Greenland’s elevation may take a dip such that the sun would have less distance to travel before appearing over the horizon.
How it works
The sun comes up each day because Earth rotates once on its axis every 24 hours or so. Seasons are a result of Earth being tilted 23.5 degrees on its spin axis coupled with the planet’s 365-day orbit around the sun.
The Arctic Circle, a line at 66 degrees north, marks the latitude at which the sun does not set during the summer solstice (when the top half of our planet is facing directly toward the sun), the longest day of the year, nor rise during the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The farther north you move from the line, the longer the period of night-less summer or sun-less winter. Ilulissat is located about 3 degrees north of the Arctic Circle, so residents spend the middle of winter without any sunlight.
At the North Pole, the sun rises only once a year — at the start of spring. It gets higher in the sky each day until the summer solstice, then sinks but does not truly set until late September, at the autumn equinox.
Not a global phenomenon
While they disagreed on the cause of the town’s early sunrise, experts did reach one consensus: This was an isolated event, not a sign of earlier spring around the Northern Hemisphere.
“In a nutshell, there can’t be a change in the true sunrise, because that would require the Earth-Sun orbital parameters to change,” said John Walsh, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Fairbanks is located about 1 degree of latitude south of the Arctic Circle, far enough south that it does not completely lose its sun in winter, and this year the sun has followed its typical pattern in Alaska, he said.
“No changes here,” he said. “We would have heard about it.”
Walsh and other scientists agreed there is absolutely no evidence of a shift in the tilt of the Earth’s axis or any other change that might alter the arrival of the seasons around the globe.
An atmospheric illusion?
Other causes can be ruled out, including the effect of the approaching leap year in 2012, since in and around leap years, the sun is slightly lower in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere around Jan. 11, according to Thomas Posch, of Austria’s Institute of Astronomy.
The most likely possibility was the refraction of sunlight at the horizon, he told LiveScience in an e-mail. Most of the other scientists interviewed agreed this was the most likely culprit.
It is, in fact a common phenomenon, according to Walsh. Light bends as it travels through layers of air with different densities, and as a result the sun is normally a little bit below the horizon when we can first see it. But an unusual stratification of the air over Greenland could have led to a stronger bending of the sun’s rays, making the sun appear to arrive earlier than usual, he wrote in an e-mail.
“It is well known that global warming is causing most of Greenland’s outlet glaciers to melt faster and draw down the inland ice, and the details of that are quite complicated,” said Tim Dixon, a professor of geodesy at the University of Southern Florida, who has studied the effects of the melting ice sheet that covers Greenland.
On average, the ice sheet has lost considerable mass over the last 10 to 15 years, he said.
Ilulissat is located on land next to the point where the Jakobshavn Isbrae outlet glacier meets the ocean. The outlet glacier is a long tongue of ice that drains from the main ice sheet to the west, through the coast into the water.
It is unlikely that the melting of the edge of the ice sheet would change the timing of the first sunrise, because the ice is east of the town, while the sunrise would take place almost due south.
Even so, Dixon did not completely dismiss melting ice as a cause, suggesting that perhaps the absence this year of a floating ice shelf in the inlet to the south may have allowed the sun to rise earlier.
Not enough information
But without information about the observations behind this report, it’s difficult to speculate as to what may have caused an early sunrise, according to Richard Alley, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University who spent several days in the town.
“When my wife was a child, she and her siblings would go to the beach, watch the sun set, and then run up the hill really rapidly, ‘unsetting’ the sun so they then could watch the sun set again,” Alley wrote in an e-mail to LiveScience. “Where you are matters.”
Given the information available, or lack of it, Alley said the possibility of a “mirage” where atmospheric conditions make it possible to see something that would not normally be visible was more likely, he wrote.
But he wrote that he was concerned about the reliability of the report.
According to a new report “State of the Climate – Global Analysis, October 2010” published by National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/?report=global the combined global land and ocean surface temperature for January–October 2010 was +0.63°C above the 20th century average of 14.1°C and tied with 1998 as the warmest January–October period on record (see Figure 1).
The data indicate mean temperature changes in the Arctic of up to +5oC relative to the 1961-1990 base period, leading to progressive loss of Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice, which in October 2010 was 17% less than during October periods of 1979-2000.
Consistent with elevated radiative forcing by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to high temperatures, strong evaporation and abrupt precipitation events, 2010 has seen a string of extreme weather events, including heat waves and fires (Russia), severe droughts (Brazil, Mexico), cyclones (USA, Caribbean) and floods (Pakistan, western China, Australia) (see Figure 2).
That extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and intensity is shown in figure 3, showing the number of cyclones increased by a factor of about 2 and floods by a factor of about 3.
Mean global high temperatures persisted despite a prevalence of La-Nina conditions ( http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/indices.shtml ;http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/enso/) which resulted in below-average temperatures across the equatorial Pacific).
Thanks to the surrounding oceans Australia has been mostly benign in terms of temperature. The decrease in mean temperatures in Australia (Figure 1) is related to the increased rainfall, clouding and evaporation/cooling effects. For Australia the year 2010 (to November) ranks in the top 10 for rainfall due to a confluence of seasonal drivers – ENSO and IOD.
Much of the rainfall occurred as abrupt precipitation events, less beneficial and often destructive as compared with gentler Mediterranean-type precipitation. A significant drying up continues in southwestern Australia, which had record low winter season rainfall, continuing a trend that began around the 1970s. This year SW WA had little inflows into its dams.
The rise in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events around the world implies models suggesting gradual climate transitions, such as projected by the IPCC-2007 (http://www.ipcc.ch/), require revision in terms of the effects of tipping points, consistent with recent research ( http://www.pnas.org/content/105/6/1786.long, http://researchpages.net/ESMG/people/tim-lenton/tipping-points/).
According to a new report by the Global Carbon Project ( http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2010/s3072556.htm) “the growth rate in emissions is going to make it increasingly difficult for us to constrain climate change to levels of around 2 degrees of warming above the pre-industrial temperatures.“ .
According to Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, +2 degrees may result in tipping points ( http://universitypost.dk/article/two-degrees-warmer-may-be-past-tipping-point ).
Ignoring reports by the world’s major climate science organizations (NASA/GISS, NCDC, Hadley-Met, Potsdam, BOM, CSIRO), governments continue to consider the issue almost exclusively in economic $ terms, the ultimate Faustian bargain.
Most are oblivious to the calamitous consequences of inaction or of limited action falling short of arresting climate change. Current negotiations regarding climate mitigation ( http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hA3Nfc02CbfSH2Iz5aR9AmCJjt3g?docId=a530a26cc75a431281af216b743181f9 ) and debates regarding carbon tax versus CPRS schemes ( http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-16/australian-carbon-price-would-unlock-free-market-genius-gillard-writes.html ), ignore the implications of the rise in extreme weather events.
Extensive media cover-up, coupled with well funded climate denial campaigns ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/24/tea-party-climate-change-deniers/print , http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/18/AR2010111805451.html ), are on the rise. Emergency climate mitigation measures, including draw-down of atmospheric CO2 using soil biochar, chemical sequestration and extensive reforestation, may have a chance of slowing runaway global warming.
Temperature anomalies October 2010 with respect to October periods 1961-1990
Selected significant climate anomalies and events, October, 2010
Trends in climate disasters compared with earthquakes showing tripling of the
annual frequency of floods and doubling of frequency of cyclones.