August 2013: Hottest Ocean Surface Temperatures on Record Defy ENSO, Spur Continental Deluges

Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperatures2

(Image source: NOAA)

ENSO, the global regulator for, generally, how much heat the world ocean system dumps into the atmosphere, remained on the cool side of neutral for much of August 2013. Ocean surface temperatures in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific remained 1 to 2 degrees Celsius below the 1981-2010 average for most of the month. In a normal year, such departures would tend to depress both global ocean and land surface temperature averages. But, for the world’s global oceans and related land atmospheric system, all was well outside the range of normal.

For beyond the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, most of the world’s oceans ranged from .5 C to up to 4 C hotter than average. A particularly hot region dominated an area east of Shanghai in the Pacific bordering China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula. The hot surface water extended under the powerful influence of an anomalous heat dome that brought dangerous 100-110+ degree (F) temperatures to these countries throughout much of August. This hot zone stretched eastward across the Pacific and on toward the US west Coast — a vast swath of water measuring 2-4 C hotter than the 1981 to 2010 average for much of the month.

These anomalously hot conditions outside of the region normally responsible for governing ocean temperature trends resulted in global ocean temperatures tying 2009 for the record high of .57 degrees Celsius above the global average. But 2009 was an El Nino year. With the Eastern Pacific remaining rather cool, one has to wonder what the hell is going on? Everywhere but in the Eastern Pacific, the ocean surface appears to have heated up. The more rapidly spinning gyres and the greater rate of up welling aren’t doing their usual job of cooling down both the ocean surface and the Earth’s atmosphere. For August, record hot ocean surface temperatures pushed global averages higher. Should ENSO switch to hot under such conditions — prepare for world temperature records to start dropping like dominoes.

Land-Ocean 4th Hottest on Record

All that said, It appears the huge volume of water vapor dredged up from the record hot oceans had done its work in marginally cooling off the continents. Heat pumped huge volumes of ocean water into the atmosphere where it formed powerful storm systems that, during event after event, dumped record amounts of rain. In deluge after deluge, regions saw 100, 200, 500 and even 1000 year floods. The most recent, in Colorado, resulted in thousands of homes lost, tens of thousands displaced, and yet one more major disaster response effort from the US federal government. The US inundation was mirrored this summer by events in the Amur region of Russia and China, massive rainstorms spurring a deadly glacial outburst flood event in India, record floods in Canada, immense floods in Europe, major floods in Pakistan, and a consistent set of record floods striking the central and Eastern US. If we hadn’t also seen major floods in 2009 and 2010, we could call 2013 the year of the flood. Others are calling such events ‘the new normal.’ But normal it is not.

All this rainfall over the world’s continents appears to have resulted in land surface temperatures ‘only’ in the range of 11th hottest on record with land surface temperatures at .62 C hotter than the 20th Century average (NOAA/NCDC). These record hot temperatures combined with all time hot ocean temperatures to make August 2013 the 4th hottest in the 134 year climate record.

Ocean Heat/Moisture Dump Showing Up in Sea Level Record

Whenever the oceans heat up, we begin to see evaporation and rainfall rates rising. Record flood events over the Continents is just one visible effect of this heightened rate of evaporation. It is now also starting to show up as large cyclical dips in the rate of sea level rise. Note the start of this volatile shark tooth pattern in the graph, provided by AVISO, below:

Pace of Sea Level Rise Since 1992

Pace of Sea Level Rise Since 1992

(Image source: AVISO)

In the above graph we can clearly see the large counter-trend drop in sea level during the major flood events of 2010 (See “It Rained So Hard The Oceans Fell“). Subsequent very rapid sea level rise from 2011 to end 2012 easily made up the difference, keeping ocean rise on the 3.19 mm per year track its been following over the past couple of decades. By 2013, a similar ocean to atmosphere to land-mass water dump became again visible in the sea level charts. Observed major flood events throughout 2013 provide a final corroboration of this massive and volatile amplification of the water cycle.

Looking Ahead

The Ocean-Atmosphere-Cyrosphere system appears to be moving into a period of wider and more powerful fluctuations. The hydrological cycle, primarily governed by the pace of ocean water evaporation and rate of rainfall, is receiving larger moisture dumps from heating seas. As such, it is beginning to encounter periods of extreme rainfall during major evaporation years. Record ocean heat, a primary driver to this amplified and erratic hydrological cycle, is increasingly occurring outside of the typical pattern of hot El Nino and cool La Nina cycles. The fact that we have record ocean warmth during an ENSO neutral pattern that is leaning toward cool is yet one more out of boundary condition and should be cause for serious concern.

Any return to El Nino conditions will likely result in larger volumes of heat transferred from Ocean to atmosphere. With global temperatures testing new limits even as the Equatorial Pacific remains cool, we can only surmise that any new return to ENSO will result in another leap to record hot conditions.


National Climate Data Center Global Analysis: August 2013

AVISO Global Sea Level Analysis

It Rained So Hard The Oceans Fell

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  1. Reblogged this on Climate Force.

  2. Further consider…

    From five climate model runs of the 21st century the authors derive 500 years worth of simulations. The hiatus decades were chosen based on a slight cooling trend in global surface temperatures of less than -0.08°C per decade. Eight decades match this criteria and the composite of their surface temperature trends are shown in Figure 1(a). If a zero decade-long temperature trend were chosen as well, then there are many more decades that fall under that criteria, including three instances where no warming lasts for 14 years, and one where this persists for 15 years.

    For the accelerated warming decades the authors choose decades where the global surface warming is at least 0.41°C per decade (around twice the observed warming over the last few decades based on GISTEMP). Like the hiatus decades, these large values for the accelerated warming decades were chosen so that the trends were obvious. The composite of the trends for these accelerated decades are shown in Figure 1(b).

    It is apparent in Figure 1, that the hiatus and accelerated warming decades are virtually the mirror image of each other. The warm sea surface temperatures in the gyres, during hiatus decades, indicate convergence of near-surface currents and strong downwelling of heat. With accelerated decades the vertical, and poleward, transport of heat by the gyres seems to shutdown, enabling strong sea surface warming in the tropics – where most solar radiation enters the ocean. The strong warming in the polar regions is related to changes in the thermohaline circulation.

  3. steve

     /  September 26, 2013

    Are you anticipating some massive snowfalls this winter?

    • steve –
      The hypothesis says this :
      “In a warming world extreme precipitation events will increase.”
      This means everything from rain to freezing rain, to sleet , to baseball hail , to giant snow flakes the size quarters.

      And just next to all of that , it will be dry as bone and hotter than hell. Robert lays out the forecast this fall , the oceans are charged with heat , heat seeks cold, heat seeks a condenser.
      Yes it will snow like hell this winter , my bet the same place it snowed like hell last winter .
      The South Coast of Alaska.

      • This same thinking means it may rain like hell in Britain again this winter.

      • Steve

         /  September 28, 2013

        Thanks CB! I assumed it would, but I haven’t read that warning mentioned anywhere. Jennifer Francis last year spoke about having a fear that the jet stream could dip deep into the south and cause a prolonged extreme cold bout which could be very dangerous, but I haven’t seen the snowfall concern expressed. It seems that with the frequency of extreme rainfall events, extreme snowfall events should be occuring as well.

      • Zamb

         /  January 7, 2014

        Colorado Bob,
        “This same thinking means it may rain like hell in Britain again this winter.”

        This is exactly what has happened! We have had awful weather nationwide, and bad flooding has happened in the South. Good predictions there! Autumn was not too nice either. And the North American continent has had record-low temperatures. And finally, Australia is experiencing recording-breaking scorching heat. All this is very strange.

  4. Queensland hit by record temperatures in September heat wave

    QUEENSLAND has sweltered through its hottest September day ever, with temperature records smashed in 30 towns across the

    Mr Bass said above-average sea surface and ocean temperatures, combined with a lack of cloud cover, had created the unprecedented hot conditions.

  5. Heavy rain has caused widespread flooding in Sochi, Russia, which will be the site of the Winter Olympics starting Feb. 7, 2014.

    From Monday, Sept. 23, through Wednesday, Sept. 25, the region has received 196 mm (7.72 inches) of rain.

    • Sochi, Russia, is on the East Coast of the Black Sea , the most hypoxic body of water on the planet . The Russians have spent $50 billion dollars on this party . They hired the best snow experts in the world. But snow guns don’t work when air temps are above 0C degrees.
      The world is on fire , just a few hundred miles south of Sochi, what could possibly go wrong ?

  6. RS –
    The Seattle Times just did a remarkable series on the oceans turning more acid.
    Pacific Ocean takes perilous turn

  7. Unprecedented Rate and Scale of Ocean Acidification Found in the Arctic

  8. Excellent post , by the way . You write science so people can read it. And that’s a rare thing .

  9. Spur Continental Deluges-
    The rains in Florida , and the Southeast US .

  10. Speaking of Robert’s theory –
    03:55 UTC

    Typhoon Pabuk

    • Don’t focus on the wind speeds anymore , it’s about this size and the water they are carrying inland . We will still see the very intense wind speeds, but we will see far more of this type of storm , covering thousands of square miles and raining like hell .

  11. Australia has experienced its hottest September on record, as well as rewriting the records for the hottest 12-month period for the second time this year.

    With an average temperature of 21.95C – 2.75C above than the long-term average – September 2013 also set a new high for the largest temperature anomaly for any month on record.

  12. Photo: Thousands of Walruses haul out near Point Lay
    NOAA researchers recently captured this amazing photo of thousands of walruses on a beach in the Chukchi Sea. NOAA biologists estimate there were roughly 10,000 walruses on the beach as of Sept. 27.

    “Large walrus haulouts along the Alaskan coasts in the northeastern Chukchi Sea are a relatively new phenomenon,” said Megan Ferguson, a marine mammal scientist with NOAA Fisheries, in a press release.

    Walruses typically use ice as a resting platform while foraging but low ice levels have the animals heading for shore. Researchers say that the use of beaches as a haul out area is a new phenomenon. The first documented large-scale haul out occurred in 2007, when the Chukchi saw record low ice levels. Since then, haul outs have been documented in a number of locations in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

  13. Climate change can be deadly to caribou calves
    Warmer spring means food is past its prime when caribou arrive at breeding ground

    The melting of arctic sea ice is indirectly leading to higher mortality among caribou calves, new research suggests.

    Penn State University biologists Eric Post and Jeffrey Kerby have unravelled the links between sea ice loss, the timing of plant growth on land and caribou breeding in Greenland over the past two decades.

    They have discovered that as the Arctic climate warms, plants are emerging earlier. That means they have become older and less nutritious by the time the caribou arrive at their breeding grounds looking for tender young shoots to nourish them in preparation for giving birth.

    “The animals show up expecting a food bonanza, but they find that the cafeteria already has closed,” said Kerby in a statement.

    Arctic sea ice has been melting in recent decades, and the area of the Arctic that is covered by ice during the summer has been declining.

  14. Neil Young – After The Gold Rush
    Look at mother nature on the run

  15. Ocean acidification due to carbon emissions is at highest for 300m years

    Overfishing and pollution are part of the problem, scientists say, warning that mass extinction of species may be inevitable

  16. Insight: massive ice wedges in Yedoma permafrost amplify carbon loss
    Yedoma permafrost stores about a third of all organic carbon in circum-Arctic permafrost and is characterized by massive ice wedges that make up around 50% of the total volume. We investigated how ice wedge thaw affects Yedoma permafrost and found that organic matter engrained in the ice wedges can degrade Yedoma carbon. The findings, published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL), highlight how this type of permafrost thawing could significantly contribute to climate change.

  17. PETM Shocker: When CO2 Levels Doubled 55 Million Years Ago, Earth May Have Warmed 9°F In 13 Years

    • “We’ve shown unequivocally what happens when CO2 increases dramatically — as it is now, and as it did 55 million years ago,” Wright said. “The oceans become acidic and the world warms up dramatically.

  18. This is a part of new series documentary on climate change.

  19. Steve

     /  October 16, 2013

    Robert, have you learned something that has bleakened your hope? In the last couple of weeks I’ve read about a massive moose die off, the continuation of the wipe out of our bees, the death total of dolphins now exceeding 600 on the East Coast, and a few varieties of fish that seem to have disappeared. Cyclones seem to be hitting the East almost non-stop. Is there anything you aren’t sharing with us?

  20. There were also major floods in parts of Africa this year.

    e.g. Sudan:




    In fact severe floods have been recorded across the Sahel this year.

    “According to assessments conducted by authorities and Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, more than 300,000 people have been affected.”

  21. Steve

     /  October 17, 2013

    Add frogs and some amphibians to the list of species faring poorly. This is the real scary stuff. 75% of a specific frog species in California was wiped out in 4 years. It doesn’t cite any other cases, but said it is a worldwide epidemic.

    • Fugus is better adapted to warmer climates. It’s a disease vector that increases in prevalence as climate change ramps up. Will take a look.

  22. Steve

     /  October 18, 2013

    I can’t believe how little is being reported about the continuing stranding of dolphins on the east coast. Today I ran across this. I figured it was coming soon. Everything I had read mentioned a virus, but no scientist I had seen quoted seemed convinced that was the culprit. The word “appears” was frequently used.

    • Ocean anoxia is also ramping up. I think I’m going to start making some phone calls about these dolphin deaths. I know a few people in the marine science community and want to get their take.

  1. Radio Ecoshock Interview: Record Floods, ENSO, Methane Release, and Slope Collapse | robertscribbler

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