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The Equatorial Pacific is Going Through its Variable Cool Phase, But 2017 is 94 Percent Likely to be the Second Hottest Year Ever Recorded

During late 2016, the Pacific Ocean started to cool off along its Equatorial region after experiencing one of the strongest warming events for that zone ever recorded. But despite this late cooling phase, the year ended up being the hottest ever recorded in the 137 year climate record — topping out at around 1.22 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures. A longer term warming trend that has been directly driven by human burning of fossil fuels and related greenhouse gas emissions.

This year, the periodic Equatorial cooling known as La Nina is again taking place in the Pacific during fall following a very mild warming during winter and spring. But despite the appearance of a second such periodic cooling event, according to NASA 2017 is 94 percent likely to be the second warmest year ever recorded (see above).

October readings have come in and at 0.9 C above NASA  baseline (1.12 C above 1880s averages), temperatures are disturbingly high. The month is now the second hottest ever seen by modern humans. With only October of 2015 coming in warmer at 1.08 C above the 20th Century baseline (1.3 above 1880s).

(Heat transfer into the polar zones is increased during La Nina periods. This effect is enhanced by polar amplification related to human caused climate change. This week, very high relative temperature departures are expected for the Arctic. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Over the past two years, La Ninas (cooling Pacific) appear to have been at least partly off-set by very strong warming in the Arctic and Antarctic. Atmospheric circulation tends to transport more heat into the polar zones as the Pacific cools. This is due to the fact that temperature differential between Equator and poles during La Nina is less and the lower temperature differential causes the upper level winds to slow and meander. Coupled with polar amplification due to human-caused climate change, the result can be some pretty extreme temperature departures. This week is no exception as Arctic temperatures by Thursday through Saturday are expected to be between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius above average for the entire region above the 66 North parallel.

Such record warm temperatures do not occur in isolation. They help to drive extreme weather events such as severe droughts, rainfall, and powerful hurricanes. They are also accelerating sea level rise by melting glaciers even as both warming temperatures and related increasing ocean acidification contribute to dead zones, coral reef deaths and declining ocean health. Global temperature rise coupled with rising CO2 is therefore producing a major systemic crisis the world over.

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38 Comments

  1. Kassy

     /  November 20, 2017

    And as it gets hotter we get more extreme storms. Some pretty cool data from the PETM:

    Hydrological implications of rapid global warming

    Researchers studying a rapid global warming event, around 56 million years ago, have shown evidence of major changes in the intensity of rainfall and flood events. The findings indicate some of the likely implications should current trends of rising carbon dioxide and global warming continue.

    The rapid global warming event, ~56 million years ago, known as the “Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum” or PETM has provided such insights.

    The team developed detailed records of the PETM event from a sequence of marine sedimentary rocks, now exposed on the coast of the Basque country of northwest Spain.

    Before, during and after the PETM, these sediments were laid down on the sea floor at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, at depths of ~1000m, on the boundary between the continents and the open ocean. The sediments are made up of microscopic calcium carbonate shells and fine-grained clay and silt sediment that is washed in from the nearby European continent.

    Remarkably, the new records show that the sediment delivery from land to this deep ocean location increased four-fold during the PETM event. The team associate this with major changes in the patterns of rainfall on land, with warming causing more extreme rainfall events, with floods and the associated erosion and transport of sediments into the oceans.

    “There are stunning records of the PETM event in northern Spain” says lead author Dr Tom Dunkley Jones, “including records of ancient land environments that experienced major changes in response to increased rainfall intensity at the start the start of the event. Now we have a direct link to the deep ocean, where some of the material eroded from land finally ends up.”

    Dr Stephen Grimes of Plymouth University, who initiated the research project, highlighted the climate changes that must have caused this increase in sediment erosion and transport — “We have climate model simulations of the effect of warming on rainfall during the PETM event, and they show some changes in the average amounts of rainfall, but the largest change is how this rainfall is packaged up — it’s concentrated in more rapid, extreme events — larger and bigger storms.”

    This fits with what the team see in the rate of sediment accumulation in the deep sea — large flood events transporting more sediment, and moving it further.

    Professor Melanie Leng, of the British Geological Survey and University of Nottingham, and co-author on the study is concerned about what this represents for the future, “From records of the PETM, like this one, it has become very clear that global warming causes major changes in the patterns and intensity of rainfall events. These changes are so large that we see evidence of them in the geological record, as a many-fold increase in the mass of sediments transported from land to the oceans. This has the potential for profound impacts on shallow marine ecosystems, and that is exactly what we see at the PETM.”

    Although the world warmed by more than 4ºC during the PETM, and this happened very rapidly for a period of natural climate change (between five and ten thousand years), it was slower than what is being observed in 21st Century warming.

    “We’re now facing the potential for a warming of 2ºC or more in less than two centuries,” said Dr Dunkley Jones, “this is more than an order of magnitude faster than warming at the start of the PETM. The geological record shows that when the planet warms this much and this fast, there will be major changes in floods, erosion and sediment transport.”

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171120111336.htm

    Reply
    • wili

       /  November 20, 2017

      Reading this, then looking at Suzanne’s harrowing clips of deluges over the last week around the world–all showing mud laden torrents rushing through towns, cities and countrysides–suggests to me that we are already well on our way to this PETM reality.

      Reply
  2. Kassy

     /  November 20, 2017

    And a methane surprise:

    One source of potent greenhouse gas pinned down

    Results suggest more methane may be released into atmosphere than thought

    In the journal Nature Communications, researchers at The Ohio State University and their colleagues describe the discovery of the first known methane-producing microbe that is active in an oxygen-rich environment.

    Oxygen is supposed to be toxic to such microbes, called methanogens, but the newly named Candidatus Methanothrix paradoxum thrives in it.

    In fact, 80 percent of the methane in the wetland under study came from oxygenated soils. The microbe’s habitat extends from the deepest parts of a wetland, which are devoid of oxygen, all the way to surface soils.

    “We’ve always assumed that oxygen was toxic to all methanogens,” said Kelly Wrighton, project leader and professor of microbiology at Ohio State. “That assumption is so far entrenched in our thinking that global climate models simply don’t allow for methane production in the presence of oxygen. Our work shows that this way of thinking is outdated, and we may be grossly under-accounting for methane in our existing climate models.”

    More work needs to be done before researchers can determine exactly how much more methane is out there, but the microbe’s habitat appears to be global.

    Searching publically available databases, the researchers found traces of Candidatus Methanothrix paradoxum in more than 100 sites across North America, South America, Europe and Asia. The organism lives in rice paddies, wetlands and peatlands — even as far north as the Arctic. It just hadn’t been cataloged before, and its unusual metabolism hadn’t been discovered.

    Then researchers sequenced microbe DNA from the soils and assembled genomes for the most plentiful organism, which turned out to be the new methane producing microbe. These methane producing microbes contribute to the fact that although wetlands cover only 6 percent of the Earth’s surface, they account for about one-third of all atmospheric methane, estimated at 160 million tons — at least, that was the estimate before this discovery.

    Wetlands are not the villains of the story, though. They do a lot of good for the environment — from filtering contaminants out of the water to providing a critical animal habitat — and they store much more greenhouse gas than they emit. Globally, wetlands sequester as much as 700 billion tons of carbon that would otherwise raise global temperatures, were it to enter the atmosphere.

    “Since late 18th century, 90 percent of Ohio’s wetland resources have been destroyed or degraded through draining, filling or other modifications,” Wrighton said. “It is imperative especially for the natural wetlands like this one that we preserve and protect these resources.”

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171120113646.htm

    Reply
    • For reference. Net RF from CO2 vs methane:

      Reply
    • For reference — methane lasts for 8 years, CO2 lasts for 500-1000 years or more.

      https://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-residence-time.htm

      Reply
    • For reference — rate of atmospheric methane growth.

      Reply
    • For reference — rate of atmospheric CO2 growth:

      Reply
      • wili

         /  November 20, 2017

        Thanks for the great graphs. Extending the time reference back a bit to pre-industrial times, methane atmospheric concentrations have more than doubled while CO2 levels have gone up, what, 45%. CO2 is obviously the main player, but I think we also need to keep an eye on other parts of the game without getting distracted from the main one.

        Reply
        • rhymeswithgoalie

           /  November 21, 2017

          After methane’s short but powerful GHG performance, it converts to long-lived but less intense GHG CO2.

          Anybody know the expected ratio of emissions CH4/CO2 from thawing permafrost?

        • We keep an eye on methane here. We do our best not to overstate or understate the issue here. Moderate to strong plausible methane feedback is a potential issue of 0.3 to 1 C this Century. Continued fossil fuel burning and CO2 emission is an issue of 3 to 7 C this Century and 5-15 C+ long term.

  3. wili

     /  November 20, 2017

    Be prepared for the denialosphere to start howling, “Look, there has been no global warming since 2016. It’s all a hoax! ” [grrrrr]

    Reply
    • Vaughn Anderson

       /  November 20, 2017

      Wili, I like to have denialists explain to me on a quantum level how energy moves between atoms and compounds. (They can’t do it.) The ensuing conversation doesn’t necessarily make much of an impression on that person but I at least think it is fun. Other people listening seem to acquire a bit better understanding of the process.

      Reply
      • wili

         /  November 20, 2017

        I’m not sure I share your physics chops, but I do at some point try to point out to denialists that they seem to have very strong feelings about the elctro-magnetic radiation absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide. Generally, blank stares ensue.

        Reply
    • 12volt dan

       /  November 21, 2017

      nice call Wili but that has already started. in the immortal words of Yosemite Sam ” denialbots is sooooo stupid”

      http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2017/10/anthony-watts-is-already-crowing-it.html

      Reply
    • rhymeswithgoalie

       /  November 21, 2017

      People who demand monotonic increase in surface/atmosphere temperatures would make the perfect marks for Bernie Madoff-like schemes which show ever-growing investment returns.

      Reply
  4. wili

     /  November 20, 2017

    Thanks for pointing out possible effect on the Arctic. It will be…interesting to watch.

    Reply
  5. Robert, I was wondering if you could leave a reference chart so that it is easier to compare different temperature increase stats. For instance this article states that the temp increase since preindustrial times so far in 2017 is 1.22 C, but the chart shows that being the increase being about that amount since the late 1880’s. It is my understanding from, I believe, an old entry on this blog, that temp increase from 1750 to 1900 is 0.3 C. Thus if I wanted to know what the cumulative increase since pre-industrial times (1750), I would add the two numbers together to get 1.52 C total increase from 1750. Do you agree? If so, it seems quite significant to me that we are already past the “desirable” limit of 1.5C put forth by the last IPCC report. In the same vein, what is the latest thinking about the lag between CO2 getting into the atmosphere and the maximum heating effect of that CO2; it seems that the numbers bandied about lately are in the 10-20 year range. I have yet to see what the shape of that effect is: linear, exponential or asymptotic to the maximum amount. Your thoughts would be much appreciated.

    Reply
    • wili

       /  November 21, 2017

      Yeah, these different stats can be confusing. But remember that a yearly data point is not the same as a longer-term average, which is what you would want if you wanted to say that the earth has already really reached 1.5 C above pre-industrial times. But we’re clearly much closer than we should be.

      Reply
    • Spike

       /  November 21, 2017

      Came across this warming clock today- based on 1850-79

      http://www.globalwarmingindex.org/

      Reply
      • rhymeswithgoalie

         /  November 21, 2017

        Ah, the chart also depicts the non-human component–some of which goes negative–which shows that humans are responsible for *more* than 100% of the warming.

        Reply
    • No. 1750 is too close to the Little Ice Age to get an accurate number relative to the Holocene preindustrial baseline. 1880 is actually a better reference point. If you want to be most accurate, you probably have an error bar of -0.02 to +0.08 C.

      Reply
  6. Kassy

     /  November 21, 2017

    Whitefish is still leeching around Puero Rico:

    Whitefish Energy: Power company halts Puerto Rico work

    An energy firm is halting work restoring power in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico in a dispute over pay.

    Whitefish Energy says payments have been delayed from Puerto Rico’s bankrupt power authority.

    The power authority, known was Prepa, says it is reviewing invoices and has stopped payments after receiving a complaint from a subcontractor.

    Whitefish Energy has been at the centre of a contracting controversy that reached the Trump administration.

    The company said in a statement it had been “promptly” turning over payments to subcontractors but “outstanding invoices for work performed in October made it impossible to continue in this manner”.

    Speaking on the condition of anonymity a Whitefish official told the BBC that $83m (£67m) was owed by Prepa.

    In a statement, Prepa spokesman Carlos Monroig, said Whitefish had “paralysed” restoration efforts, and that the power authority was “in the process of reviewing and auditing invoices submitted by Whitefish”.

    bit more on:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42061357

    Reply
    • Yeah, so that 1.5 to 2.5 C margin is also an issue RE superstorms in my opinion. The glacial release period and worsening weather extreme period appears to be synergistic. Lots of cold moving around coming into contact with rising heat from various regions. This is a formula for intensifying extreme weather on top of atmospheric moisture loading, increasing rates of evaporation and precipitation, increasing fuel for convection, and more fuel for hurricanes. In other words, it adds another extreme weather factor that though difficult to predict, will likely serve to amplify the already intensified pattern.

      Reply
  7. wili

     /  November 21, 2017

    Always on the lookout for cheery news ‘-) I came across this. Had anyone else not heard of these folks? http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42662-the-redneck-revolt-is-showing-up-at-gun-shows-and-kkk-rallies-to-end-white-supremacy

    “The “Redneck Revolt” Is Showing Up at Gun Shows and KKK Rallies to Combat White Supremacy”

    Reply
  8. wili

     /  November 21, 2017

    On the other hand:

    grist.org/article/antarctica-doomsday-glaciers-could-flood-coastal-cities/

    “Doomsday on Ice”

    ‘Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century.”

    By Eric Holthaus on Nov 21, 2017

    “The only place in the world where you can see ice-cliff instability in action today is at Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, one of the fastest-collapsing glaciers in the world. DeConto says that to construct their model, they took the collapse rate of Jakobshavn, cut it in half to be extra conservative, then applied it to Thwaites and Pine Island.”

    Reply
    • DeConto’s forecast is probably, therefore, conservative under all but the most mild warming scenarios. In my opinion, the 1.5 to 2.5 C threshold (above 1880) is pretty dangerous from an SLR perspective. Meaning that risk of rapid release dramatically increases in that temperature margin.

      Reply

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