Steve Vavrus: “Arctic Fever? Taking the Arctic’s Temperature”

September 7, 2022

(Conversation Recorded on August 18, 2022.)

On this episode, Climate Scientist Steve Vavrus joins Nate to discuss the Arctic and its critical impact on climate science. Why are the effects of warming so extreme in the Arctic, and what are the implications for weather events and average temperatures on the rest of the planet? Do runaway arctic feedback loops mean disaster ‘Blue Ocean’ scenarios?

Steve explains why the answers to these questions aren’t as simple as they may seem and talks about the challenges and hopes he sees for the future of humans and global climate.

About Steve Vavrus

Steve Vavrus is a Senior Scientist in the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He uses computer climate models and observational data to understand how our climate is changing across the world, including in Wisconsin. Extreme weather events are an important theme of his research, particularly how they might be affected by climate change. Steve is co-director of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) and has been a long-time member of its Climate Working Group. Additionally, Steve is an IPCC Scientist, contributing to the most recent climate report. Steve received Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in meteorology at the University of Wisconsin and a Bachelor’s degree in meteorology at Purdue University.

Show Notes & Links to Learn More

00:35 – Steve’s info + works  

00:42IPCC climate scientist

02:20 Acid rain

02:30Climate change

03:15National Cap and Trade system

03:55 Carbon dioxide, methane solutions require different strategies

04:05 – We [U.S.] burn a lot less coal than we used to, China is still largest coal-burning country

04:24Air pollution in India and air pollution in China

04:42 Arctic and Antarctic roles in climate system

05:14Polar regions and hot tropics

05:27 – Storms and the Jet Stream

05:40 – Snow and ice locked up in the polar regions and sea level rise

05:53 Arctic warming 4x faster than world average

06:08 Temperature differential

07:12Extreme weather events which are prolonged

07:26Polar vortex and heat domes 

08:27Europe all time heat records, 104 degrees in London, Canada all time temperature record of 121 degrees

10:06 2014 and 2019 Wisconsin cold temps

10:30Recency bias

11:01Positive feedbacks and albedo

12:52Permafrost, Arctic permafrost stores more carbon than in entire atmosphere

13:30Greenland ice sheet, Iceland ice cap

14:16Boreal forest is dark, tundra is light

14:48RCP 8.5 is biophysically implausible

15:17IEA or AR6 Moderate Action scenario

16:04 – Realization that high-end emission scenarios are implausible

17:58Fluid dynamics

18:14 – Complexity of new climate models

18:23 – Six continent supply chain

19:42How climate models add cloud physics

20:25 – IPCC is interdisciplinary, Oceanographers, Glaciologists

21:35Arctic amplification of global warming is a very real thing

21:42Paleoclimate record, in time of dinosaurs the poles were ice free

22:58 Blue Ocean event

24:35 – The last interglacial period

24:58[Interglacial period] sea levels 6-9 meters or 20-30 feet higher

25:25Sea level during peak of last ice age, Russia and Alaska connection

26:03 Meltwater pulse event

26:13Sea level rise impact to people on coast lines

27:39First principles

30:30 Similarities shared between the Arctic and Antarctica.

30:42 The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land mass

30:45The Antarctic is a land mass surrounded by ocean

30:55North Pole, South Pole

32:11 IPCC report “uncertainty bars”

33:08Ocean acidification, change in thermohaline circulation, AMOC, overfishing, food webs on cetaceans

33:53Geo-engineering schemes

35:13Pumping sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere 

37:27Crushed olivine rock to absorb CO2

37:58 Brightening sea ice or snow cover to deflect solar energy

40:40Biodiversity, population decline, endocrine disruptors, habitat loss

41:01Systems awareness [TGS Movie]

42:17How the Arctic will change in the Summer

42:54Northern Siberia hit 100 degrees for first time ever reported

45:12Anthropogenic climate change

46:57Carbon sequestration, solar panels

47:34China expanding renewable energy + expanding fossil fuel use

48:36 Urban heat islands

50:48George Floyd, social justice, environmental justice

51:21Wet bulb temperature

51:30Climate justice

52:05Coastal erosion in the Arctic, some villages in Alaska have had to relocate

53:01Djibouti and warm nights so the oxen are suffering

54:55Heat is the #1 weather-related killer in the US

56:56 – Turn down the temperature in political discourse


Teaser photo credit: Polar bears on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean, near the North PoleUSS Honolulu pictured. By Chief Yeoman Alphonso Braggs, US-Navy – This image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 031000-N-XXXXB-001 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing.العربية ∙ বাংলা ∙ Deutsch ∙ Deutsch (Sie-Form) ∙ English ∙ español ∙ euskara ∙ فارسی ∙ français ∙ italiano ∙ 日本語 ∙ 한국어 ∙ македонски ∙ മലയാളം ∙ Plattdüütsch ∙ Nederlands ∙ polski ∙ پښتو ∙ português ∙ svenska ∙ Türkçe ∙ українська ∙ 简体中文 ∙ 繁體中文 ∙ +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23694

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens

Nate Hagens is the Director of The Institute for the Study of Energy & Our Future (ISEOF) an organization focused on educating and preparing society for the coming cultural transition. Allied with leading ecologists, energy experts, politicians and systems thinkers ISEOF assembles road-maps and off-ramps for how human societies can adapt to lower throughput lifestyles. Nate holds a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. He teaches an Honors course, Reality 101, at the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Arctic warming, environmental effects of climate change