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2017 — Second Hottest Year on Record as Climate Troubles Escalate

The world continues to warm. In the geological context, it is warming very rapidly. Likely more rapidly than at any time in at least the past 200 million years. And as long as this very swift warming trend continues, as long as it is not bent back, it spells serious trouble for the world’s weather, for stable coastlines, for corals, for ocean health, for stable growing seasons and for so, so many more things that we all depend on.

2017 was the second hottest year in the global climate record. It was notable due to the fact that it followed the strong El Nino year of 2016 with ENSO neutral trending toward La Nina conditions. The short term conditions that emerged during 2017 would tend to variably cool the Earth. But the resulting cool-down from 2016 to 2017 was marginal at best — representing about half the counter-trend drop-off following the strong 1998 El Nino. Instead, much warmer than normal polar zones kept the world in record hot ranges even as the Equator tried, but failed, to significantly cool.

(Rate of global warming since the 2010s appears to have accelerated in the above graph following a strong El Nino during 2015-2016 and a very mild counter-trend cooling during 2017. Temperatures in 2018 are likely to be similar to those seen during 2017 if the present prediction for ENSO-Neutral conditions is born out. Image source: NASA.)

Overall, warming above historical baselines remains quite acute in the NASA graph. And global temperatures for 2017 were 1.12 C warmer than 1880s averages. This is comparable to the 1 to 2 C warmer than Holocene range last seen during the Eemian — when oceans were about 20 to 30 feet higher than they were during the 20th Century.

Present rate of warming appears to be at the higher end of the observed 0.15 to 0.20 C warming per decade increase since the mid 1970s. This rate of warming is approximately 30 to 50 times faster than the warming that ended the last ice age. During that time, it took ten thousand years for the Earth to warm by about 4 degrees Celsius. Now we are at risk of seeing a similar warming within 1 to 2 Centuries or less if a switch back to business as usual fossil fuel burning occurs.

(This is what a world featuring temperatures hotter than 1 C above late 19th Century averages looks like. All-in-all not a very cool place. If present levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses simply remain and do not rise, we are likely to see 2 to 3 times this level of warming long-term and over the course of multiple centuries. Present policy pathways for additional greenhouse gas emissions will likely achieve 2-3 C warming or more by the end of this Century unless more rapid energy transitions, carbon emission curtailment, and atmospheric carbon capture are undertaken. Image source: NASA.)

NASA and other top scientific agencies point toward human CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause of present warming and a related growing disruption to the Earth’s climate system. Action to switch energy systems away from fossil fuels and to, as a follow-on, draw down a portion of that climate warming CO2 now in the atmosphere is presently necessary to prevent ratcheting levels of harm and disruption on local, regional and global scales.

Though mild compared to the potential impacts of future human-forced warming, present warming and presently elevated CO2 levels in the range of 407 ppm and 492 ppm CO2e are enough to generate climate disruptions of serious consequence over the short, medium and long term that negatively impact the health of human civilizations and the natural world. Meanwhile, continued fossil fuel burning and related dumping of carbon into the atmosphere is increasing the risk of catastrophic events and related mass loss of human shelter, forests, fertile growing zones, and earth system life support services. The need for response and a rapid energy transition to renewables is therefore both considerable and growing.

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40 Comments

  1. Henri

     /  January 18, 2018

    No new warming since 2016 doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the favorite denialist year did (which as most of us know wasn’t even true but could still fool people who weren’t following the issue).

    Reply
  2. 12volt dan

     /  January 18, 2018
    Reply
    • rhymeswithgoalie

       /  January 19, 2018

      Beyond managing end-user consumption, I hope Cape Town checks for leaks in its mains. Many old cities lose a significant percentage of their potable water through line breaks.

      Reply
  3. Keith Antonysen

     /  January 18, 2018
    Reply
  4. I very much appreciate you noting the CO2eq. I see very few people do that and it is very relevant. One topic that I would like to learn more on is ‘lag time’ for atmospheric response to existing CO2. I know there is a certain amount of inertia to the warming of the atmosphere since we are trapping (more) heat over time. On another ‘denialist’ note, I like the recent rash of ‘higher temps no big deal’ articles hitting the internet. Sad. Anyway, always appreciate the information shared here. Referenced and to the point.

    Reply
  5. Sherilyn Trego

     /  January 18, 2018

    Thank you , Robert, and I want to second what kenflood said about CO2eq.

    Reply
  6. Andy_in_SD

     /  January 18, 2018

    In the Arctic, seems sea ice extent is having trouble. Compare to the low of 2012-2013 (green dashed line).

    Reply
    • Greg

       /  January 18, 2018

      Here is volume:

      Reply
      • rhymeswithgoalie

         /  January 19, 2018

        Another excuse to post Andy Lee Robinson’s excellent depiction at Arctic sea ice *minimum* volumes (1979-2017):

        Reply
    • Spike

       /  January 19, 2018

      Just one example here

      Reply
  7. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    “Present rate of warming appears to be at the higher end of the observed 0.15 to 0.20 C warming per decade increase since the mid 1970s. This rate of warming is approximately 30 to 50 times faster than the warming that ended the last ice age.”

    Reply
  8. Andy_in_SD

     /  January 19, 2018

    IPCC sea ice extent projections (Blue) versus observed (Red) for sea ice minimum in September. They were cautious and conservative in projecting trends (as is the nature of scientists), but even their gut feel probably didn’t match what is occurring.

    Reply
    • DJ

       /  January 19, 2018

      That’s a fantastic illustration of how fast (and how much faster than expected) things are moving.

      Reply
  9. Greg

     /  January 19, 2018

    A growing climate awareness on the right. Prepare to meet the eco-right (American) and how to talk to them in a way they understand.
    \https://grist.org/article/climate-change-isnt-just-for-democrats-anymore-meet-the-eco-right-republicans/

    Reply
    • Thanks for that Greg; some very useful tactics and language when seeking discussion with right-wing people.

      Reply
  10. Vaughn Anderson

     /  January 19, 2018

    The Sierra Club has published an enlightening article discussing how dialogues with people about climate change have changed views of non-believers of climate change in Minnesota. In the article “Can We Talk about the Weather” Madeline Ostrander discusses how “Rural Climate Dialogues” get people across the political spectrum to discuss global warming.

    The article is quite enlightening since the discussions helped people understand how climate change is affecting them in Minnesota. Very much worth a read:

    Can We Talk about the Weather by Madeline Ostrander January-February 2018 Sierra Magazine

    https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2018-1-january-february/feature/talking-about-climate-change-trump-country

    Reply
  11. Vaughn Anderson

     /  January 19, 2018

    Large waves and higher than normal sea levels are battering/have battered low laying areas along the Oregon and Washington coastline.

    http://www.kgw.com/article/weather/coastal-storm-batters-lincoln-city-wave-knocks-down-portland-woman/283-508989480

    Reply
  12. Meanwhile sort of OP
    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/19/explosive-allegations-from-the-latest-trump-dossier-testimony.html

    https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/3/9/3974a291-ddbe-4525-9ed1-22bab43c05ae/934A3562824CACA7BB4D915E97709D2F.simpson-transcript-redacted.pdf++

    Woopsie

    Here are some explosive allegations from the latest testimony on the Trump dossier

    The latest congressional testimony from the co-founder of a firm tasked with investigating Donald Trump is full of explosive allegations.
    Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS says in the November testimony that much of the president’s wealth had come from trusts and investments set up by his late father.
    Simpson also testifies that money from Russian sources was funneled to Trump properties in Toronto, Panama and elsewhere.

    Reply
  13. The winds of change are upon us
    https://climatecrocks.com/2018/01/18/in-the-us-offshore-wind-finally-breezing-up/
    As usual in the renewable space, prices have been dropping unexpectedly rapidly for offshore wind in Europe, and that means unsubsidized offshore wind is becoming a reality.
    The potential US offshore wind resource is vast..and it appears that even the Trump administration is enthusiastically supporting development.

    Reply
  14. Vic

     /  January 19, 2018

    Another year, another summer, another heatwave and another round of tennis players cooking themselves at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, on the edge of the heat dome.

    Frenchman Gael Monfils was so affected that at times he appeared delirious and staggered around like a “punch drunk boxer” as temperatures on the court reached as high as 69C (156F).

    Reply
  15. Vic

     /  January 19, 2018

    Atmospheric physics at work in the Netherlands…

    Reply
    • Ronald

       /  January 21, 2018

      Yes, winters in The Netherlands have become ‘extended autumns’, as I call them: little frost, even during the nights, little snow, but rainy and very windy. The kind of weather that used to be normal in November.

      Reply
  16. Vic

     /  January 19, 2018

    And Turkey too…

    Reply
  17. Shawn Redmond

     /  January 19, 2018

    This was uploaded Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:39 PM EST worth the 27 minutes or so just to compare how far we’ve come.

    This link will allow you to decide for yourself if she’s on or not.
    http://www.theartofannihilation.com

    Reply
    • Keith Antonysen

       /  January 20, 2018

      Something I’m finding is that there has been much information that has passed many of us by in the past giving warning to what will eventuate. We now have events which can be thought of as catastrophic with temperature barely above 1C from pre-industrial times (Harvey, Irma, Maria and the terrible wildfires).
      Prior warning:

      Reply
  18. A little OT, but maybe not
    https://climatecrocks.com/2018/01/19/drought-resistant-tree-may-be-super-medicine-super-food/#more-51885
    The Himalayan Tree That Thinks It’s A Superhero:

    🌳Moringa Tree (Moringa oleifera)

    🌳Drought tolerant, grows rapidly, leaves can be used as a biofertiliser, seeds can help purify water

    🌳Every part of the tree can be consumed as a food or a medicinehttp://theconversation.com/the-moringa-tree-enters-the-arsenal-of-treatments-against-chronic-diseases-84475 …

    Reply
    • bearingwitness

       /  January 20, 2018

      Yes – it’s an amazing plant, but it has the potential to become highly invasive…

      Reply
  19. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/20/great-barrier-reef-coral-bleaching-has-started-early-biologist-says

    Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching has started early, biologist says

    Photographs show only localised bleaching but there is concern it has come so early in the season

    Reply
  20. http://fortune.com/2018/01/19/nasa-space-travel-kilopower-reactor/

    NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) said initial tests on the prototype system, which began in November at the DOE’s Nevada National Security Site, have been successful.

    Kilopower, according to NASA, is a space fission power system that could provide up to 10 kilowatts of electrical power continuously for at least 10 years. That’s about enough power to enough to run two average households.

    That might not seem like a lot of power here on Earth, but it’s actually a huge amount for NASA. For instance, the agency’s New Horizons mission, which uses nuclear batteries, has a maximum power of 240 watts. The smallest Kilopower reactor would need almost five times as much power.

    The nuclear batteries that are found in New Horizons harnesses heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238 oxide. Kilopower reactors are designed to split uranium atoms to release heat energy and then convert it into electricity. Uranium is vastly more abundant than plutonium-238. And about one pound of uranium fuel can produce as much energy as about three million pounds of burnable coal, according to NASA. In other words, a little goes a long way.

    Reply
  21. Erik Frederiksen

     /  January 19, 2018

    As we watch temperature records falling around the world we might ask where are we now, long before feeling the full effects of a rise in temperature of just over 1 degree C, due to lags in the system.

    We are seeing numerous impacts catching many scientists by surprise with how soon they are occurring. In 2014 two independent teams of scientists reported that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is likely irreversibly retreating. 3.3 meters of sea level rise equivalent of ice there is being destabilized by warming oceans and energy is going into the net melting of ice all over the planet.

    The paleoclimate record shows that increasing global temperature by just 1.5-2 degrees C above preindustrial temperature commits the system to an eventual 6-9m of sea level rise and recently it was reported in the Guardian that we have around a 5 percent chance of staying under 2C.

    Corals may not survive this century of warming and acidifying oceans, and droughts and floods linked to global warming—and conflict linked to those droughts—are already causing four countries to face famine.

    Because of the decades to millennial long lag between a climate forcing and our feeling the effect, due to the thermal inertia of the ocean and response time of the ice sheets, the effects we are feeling now are largely just the beginning of the result of emissions from the 20th century. And emissions have been increasing steadily for decades.

    We are also seeing numerous amplifying feedbacks: loss of albedo (heat reflectivity) from ice melt, permafrost melt, methane release and massive wildfires; the Earth is starting to wrest any possible further human control of the climate away.

    We’re about out of time on this, if not already, and leaders are not only still acting as if this is not a planetary emergency, but some are acting as if there isn’t a problem at all.

    Reply
    • bostonblorp

       /  January 20, 2018

      Well put, Erik. I read a comment on NYT that stated something like “Climate inertia is the handshake with the Devil.” In other words – just how bad of a deal you made won’t become clear for a while but when it does you’re in over your head.

      Reply
  22. Robert, I quite accidentally apparently reported one of your ads when all I was trying to do was to move something on my screen over to the right hand side and minimize it to get it out of the way. Then I saw “report submitted”in an ad space on your page, the top one, or perhaps the one just below that. I’m not sure because at that time, I couldn’t see ANY of the ads, they weren’t displaying for me after my computer had been asleep for several hours and I had to refresh the page to see them but that was after I had already reported the ad.
    I have no idea how it happened and I’m sorry, hope I don’t get you into some kind of trouble. Maybe you should take a screen shot of this comment to verify to whomever it may concern, what happened.

    Reply
  23. Ronald

     /  January 25, 2018

    Record jump in 2014-2016 global temperatures largest since 1900

    Heat generated by greenhouse gas emissions and stored in the Pacific Ocean was released by the 2014-2015 El Niño

    “Global surface temperatures surged by a record amount from 2014 to 2016, boosting the total amount of warming since the start of the last century by more than 25 percent in just three years, according to a new University of Arizona-led paper. The research is the first to quantify the record temperature spike of an additional 0.43 degrees F (0.24 C) in just three years and to identify the fundamental reason for the jump”.

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180124123225.htm
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/2017GL076500

    This looks quite serious, something for a separate post, Robert?

    Reply

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