2014 was the hottest year in the global climate record. It was a year when El Nino failed to get off the ground. And it was a year when CO2 levels were at or near 400 parts per million for most of the period.
Each of these points should be a matter of concern, especially as we confront a yet hotter year during 2015 in the face of a ramping El Nino and continually rising greenhouse gas concentrations from fossil fuel burning. Conditions that will likely continue to push record global heat toward ever more disturbing thresholds.
First Five Months of 2015 Hottest on Record; El Nino is Still Ramping Up
The most recent NOAA global analysis report and related updates highlight this potential and growing risk. First, NOAA data shows that the initial five months of 2015 were the hottest on record by a substantial margin. Hitting 0.85 C above the 20th Century average, this global heatwave beat out the previous hottest such period during 2010 by a substantial +0.09 C margin.
(NOAA shows extreme high temperature departures for the first five months of 2015. Image source: NOAA’s Global Analysis.)
These temperatures, basically 1.05 degrees Celsius above 1880s values in the NOAA measure, represent an extreme departure beyond norms over the past few thousands years and almost certainly exceed maximum Holocene values — putting the current age of human fossil fuel based warming in a context similar to the Eemian of 150,000 years ago. A context that is all the more dangerous and troubling due to a massive greenhouse gas overburden not seen in at least 3 million years and a very rapid ramping of overall global temperatures. A pace of warming and greenhouse gas accumulation possibly never seen in all the Earth’s deep history.
Of particular interest to the 2015 climate situation, however, is the fact that though 2010 was also an El Nino year and though 2015 has already hit significant positive temperature departures during its first five months, 2010 had already seen most of the El Nino heat build it was likely to experience by May. The Equatorial Pacific, during May of 2010 was starting a multi-month cool-down into La Nina. By contrast, 2015 is still ramping up to an El Nino event that, in some measures, is already stronger than the El Nino experienced during 2010. As a result, we are likely to see greater high temperature departures due to a ramping heat bleed coming off the Pacific as the months of 2015 continue to progress.
To this point NOAA notes:
The first five months of 2015 were the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 0.85°C (1.53°F) above the 20th century average, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.09°C (0.16°F). Consequently, 2010 was the last year with El Niño conditions; however El Niño was ending at this point in 2010, while it appears to be maturing at the same point in 2015.
NOAA’s ONI Adjustment Hints that Impact of Human Greenhouse Gas Emissions Was Greater, El Nino Less
Another issue is that NOAA also recently adjusted its Ocean Nino Index (ONI) downward for late 2014 and early 2015. ONI measures the intensity of El Nino by taking account of sea surface temperatures in the Central Pacific. What this means is that the slow start to the current El Nino was even slower and weaker than initially indicated. As a result, according to NOAA, El Nino’s variability-based influence of the record global temperatures experienced during 2014 and early 2015 was consequently less and the human greenhouse gas forcing’s impact was consequently more.
To this point it is important to emphasize that 2014 was not technically an El Nino year, yet new record high temperatures were experienced during that time. This is notable in that it implies the human heat forcing through greenhouse gas emissions is playing an ever greater role — crowding out the old signals and fluxes inherent to base natural global temperature variability.
Outside extreme weather events that are an upshot of this mangled variability have abounded during the first five months of 2015. During May, the State of Alaska experienced a massive temperature departure of 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Heat that has helped to set off a spate of extreme wildfires that now risk hazardous air quality for numerous Alaskan cities.
(Bill taking on the features of an organized cyclone over a water-logged Central US in yesterday’s MODIS shot. As of Thursday, some sections of Oklahoma has received a staggering 3 feet of rainfall in just six weeks. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)
The added heat appears to have also complicated normal El Nino variability by more greatly enhancing rainfall over affected regions than is typical. The Central US, in particular, has felt the brunt of this impact. During May, massive rainfall events brought flooding to Texas and Oklahoma. Sections of Oklahoma, as of yesterday, had experienced an unprecedented 3 feet of rain in just six weeks. A typical summer El Nino would somewhat enhance rainfall in this region. But not to the degree that we are seeing now. So the global warming-based amplification of the hydrological cycle is also likely in play. In this case, we see global warming and El Nino acting in concert to increase the likelihood of very extreme weather.
Though NOAA reports its data in a responsible, matter of fact, manner, it is important to consider the unprecedented nature of that information. What we are seeing is record warm years that occur increasingly outside the influence of El Nino, the ability of moderate El Nino heat flux to generate significant record global high temperature departures, and a tendency of strong El Nino periods to push global heating toward terrific ranges. These are all indications of an Earth System that is ranging ever more out of a context that the human beings and the creatures of this world are adapted to live in. Indications that we are rapidly moving toward a dangerous and extinction event producing Hothouse Climate. In this very rapid initial warming the likelihood of dangerous weather — heatwaves, fires, heavy rainfall events, intense storms — is thus increased. In addition, the push toward dangerous geophysical changes such as more rapid glacial melt and associated sea level rise becomes that much more intense and imminent.
Media Fails to Responsibly Report Warnings from Scientists, Religious Leaders
The NOAA report is a signal of a condition of increasing climate crisis that should be reported widely and with all due urgency. By contrast, the tendency of global media (especially the individually-owned megamedia monopolies such as NewsCorp) to downplay, to sweep such reports under the rug, to attack such reports outright, or to only portray them in the most narrow of contexts is therefore vastly and unforgivably irresponsible (shout out to noted exceptions like The Guardian or underground and peripheral sources like RealClimate, WeatherUnderground, The Independent, The Arctic Sea Ice Blog, Dot.Earth and ThinkProgress).
The global scientific community and major religious leaders like the Pope (see the Pope’s loud and clear urging for global climate action here) are well aware of the situation and the calls for action from these responsible, moral leaders are growing louder and more urgent. The failure of media to appropriately relay that call and to generate action on the part of the public can only be seen, at this point, as an aspect of a dangerous allegiance to destructive and amoral businesses (fossil fuel industry), to individual interests who have a financial stake in a larger failure to respond to this crisis, and to political ideologies that are so filled with hubris as to be blind to an obvious and ramping existential crisis. Media, in this case, has thus become complicit in a failure to appropriately act, enhancing the intensity of the crisis, reducing the effectiveness of the response, and worsening the harm and increasing loss of life and livelihood to follow. A continuation of this failure would constitute nothing less than complicity in climate change denial and related harms. History, should history remain in tact following a failure to fully respond, will judge such a failure in the harshest possible terms.
Hat Tip to Tom Cobbler