Halfway to 2 C — According to NASA, We Just Blew Past an Ominous Milestone

2 C.

It’s the amount of warming past pre-industrial times that the IPCC says we should try to avoid this Century in order to prevent the worst consequences of human-caused climate change. It’s the so-called safe limit, even though there’s nothing really safe about it and we should probably be aiming more for a below 1.5 C target.

1 C.

It’s the amount of warming between pre-industrial times and, according to the latest data from NASA, the first half of 2015. In other words, temperatures during the first six months of 2015 are now at least halfway toward freeing some of the nastiest climate monsters in the closet.

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According to NASA GISS, June of 2015 was tied with 1998 as the hottest of any June in the entire 135 year global climate record. Coming in at +0.76 C above NASA’s 20th Century average, June follows May at +0.73 C (4th hottest), April at +0.71 C (tied for 3rd hottest), March at +0.91 C (second hottest), February at + 0.89 C (hottest), and January at +0.81 C (2nd hottest).

Combined, these average out for a +0.80 C departure from the 20th Century in the NASA measure. That’s an extraordinary amount of heat — +0.18 C above 1998 levels and +0.05 C above 2014, which was the previous hottest year on record.

But, perhaps most importantly, this reading is the first consistent break at 1 C above 1880s levels. An ominous benchmark and halfway to the catastrophic 2 C warming we really, really want to avoid.

June Takes On El Nino-Type Temperature Pattern

June 2015 hottest on record NASA

(NASA’s geographic temperature anomalies for a record hot June in 2015. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Looking at the June temperature anomaly map, we find very large zones of 2-4 C above average readings running up toward the Northern Hemisphere Pole. The first of these zones rides up over Western Asia. Covering most of the region from the Caspian Sea on northward, this area features two anomalously hot zones ranging to as high as a +4.7 C anomaly in intensity. The second of these zones issues from the developing El Nino in the Eastern Pacific, rides up over the hot ‘Blob’ of ocean water in the Northeastern Pacific, invades Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and then enters the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. This zone also features large expanses of +2 to +4 C above average temperatures.

Overall, most of the globe saw above average readings with only the region just south of Greenland, a small zone just west of the hot ‘Blob,’ and an area of somewhat cooler readings over West Antarctic showing below average readings.

Zonal anomalies June 2015

(Zonal anomalies began to pick up the El Nino signal during June. Note that equatorial heat gain nearly matches that of the Northern Hemisphere pole. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Under El Nino —  a climate condition the globe is steadily transitioning toward — we would expect to see relative warming near the Equator and relative cooling near the poles. During June, we begin to see this signature with the Equator warming up to a substantial +1.2 C positive anomaly. Antarctica also followed this trend as that polar zone dipped into the -0.4 to -1.2 C negative anomaly range (60 to 90 South). Meanwhile, the Northern Hemisphere Polar zone (60 to 90 North) showed significant hot readings in the range of +0.9 to +1.4 C anomalies.

Overall, the entire globe from 50 South on northward experienced above average to much hotter than average temperatures in the zonal measure. A clear and powerful heat signal for June of 2015.

Building El Nino Likely Means More Heat to Come

With the first six months of 2015 finished and with El Nino still strengthening in the Pacific, it appears that a record hot year may already be a lock. In addition, further warming may be in store.

The current El Nino appears to be roughly on a similar development track, as far as timing and possible intensity, to the 1997-1998 El Nino. Given this rough allegory, we are approximately at the same place, climatologically speaking, as July of 1997. During that event, global temperatures didn’t really start taking off into severe record high ranges until Fall of 1997 through Summer of 1998. If the ocean to atmosphere heat loading for the current event proceeds in similar fashion, we could expect to see even more extreme temperatures than we are currently experiencing by Fall and running on through at least the first season or two of 2016.

Extreme El Nino By October

(Record-breaking El Nino by October? NOAA CFSv2 models have been spitting out some pretty extreme results. If we see anywhere near this level of sea surface warming the Central Pacific, the heat records thus far for months during 2014 and 2015 may soon be left in the dust. Image source: NOAA CPC.)

Looking toward July’s forecast, there is a bit of a caveat. That month is typically cooler globally due to a lessed impact of the greenhouse gas heat forcing. This is due to the fact that greenhouse gasses are concentrated most heavily in the Northern Hemisphere and such greenhouse gasses are most efficient at heat trapping during night time and winter. As such, we may see a bit of a dip in the July readings below June. But if this current El Nino gets involved as the models predict, it’s likely to be record-breaking heat that pushes some very ominous global temperature thresholds all the way through from August 2015 to at least early 2016.

Let’s just hope we don’t close too much more of the gap to 2 C. It’s really starting to get scary out there.

Links:

NASA GISS

GISTEMP

NOAA CPC

Hat tip to Wili

(Please support public, non-special interest based, science like the fantastic work written about here and conducted by the experts at NASA and NOAA.)

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Climate Change Ratcheting Up: El Nino Strengthens in Equatorial Pacific Increasing Likelihood for Record Warm 2015

A powerful Kelvin Wave continued to ripple through the near-surface waters of the Equatorial Pacific this week — heightening sea surface temperatures, strengthening an ongoing El Nino, and pushing a wave of oceanic heat back into a human-warmed atmosphere that is hotter now than at any time in modern human reckoning.

High temperature anomalies in the Kelvin Wave plug have spread out across the ocean surface. Readings in the range of +1 to +2 C above average stretch along surface waters all the way from the Date Line through 120 West Longitude. East of the 120 line, surface waters have now hit readings of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above average. And lurking just below the surface along thousands of miles of ocean is a dense zone of 5-6 degree above average water. A zone of extreme heat at the heart of the current intense Kelvin Wave:

NOAA Kelvin Wave April 23

(A strong Kelvin Wave shuts down atmospheric heat transfer into the Equatorial Pacific setting up conditions for an extended El Nino and possible new record heat for 2015. Image Source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Heat that could well make 2015 yet another worsening of the human warming and extreme weather twilight zone we now find ourselves in.

Pushing into Moderate El Nino Range

According to NOAA’s weekly El Nino report, sea surface temperatures in the critical Nino 3.4 region hit a range of 1 degree C above average last week. A jump from the previous week’s measure of +0.7 C and a new push toward moderately strong El Nino levels off the back of the current warm Kelvin Wave. Atmospheric teleconnections that are signatures of a moderate El Nino also began to emerge over past weeks — with a strengthening of the subtropical Jet and related storm track setting off powerful tornadoes, thunderstorms and heavy rain events in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico over the past ten days.

Heat content from the current Kelvin Wave is enough to continue to keep Equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures in present ranges or to push for further warming over at least the next 1-2 months. A set of factors that will almost certainly lock near moderate El Nino conditions in through Summer and general El Nino conditions through early Autumn. The result is that the extra heat bleed off the Pacific Ocean will combine with the impressive human forcing to generate a high risk that 2015 atmospheric temperatures will beat out all-time record highs set in 2014.

Model Runs Still Showing Potential for Super El Nino

Nino 3.4 Monthly Anomalies

(Unweighted model ensemble runs show the current El Nino peaking out at extreme intensity. Long range model runs can be quite uncertain, but these are very high values. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

NOAA model runs also show a potential for El Nino strengthening through the end of 2015. Probability weighted CFS model ensembles (PDF) point toward a seasonal anomaly for Nino 3.4 in the range of 1998 Super El Nino values at 2.1 degrees Celsius above average by the end of 2015. Mean model runs (non-weighted) push the long range forecast heat values even higher at 2.6 C above seasonal averages or 2.75 C above monthly averages.

These unweighted long range forecasts are well outside the strength of even the monster event of nearly two decades ago. A new super El Nino that would have very serious consequences for global temperatures and result in far-reaching climate impacts should it emerge. Atmospheric temperatures that are now in the range of +0.7 C above 20th Century averages and +0.9 C above 1880s values could well push into a new range at +0.8 C and +1 C, or higher, respectively.

Super El Nino Late 2015

(Long range models show Equatorial Pacific has potential to hit near Super El Nino status by late 2015. At this time, such model runs are low certainty. Image source: NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies.)

Cranking up the Human Hothouse

Entering the range of 1-2 C above 1880s values is a zone of heat anomaly that will amplify already apparent ice sheet melt, sea level rise, droughts, wildfires, water stress, and ocean health impacts. At temperatures around +1.5 C we begin to enter a period of strong glacial outflows, weather instability, geophysical changes, and record related storm events in a ‘Storms of My Grandchildren‘ type scenario. At +2 C these very dangerous impacts will likely be in full swing.

It is worth noting that it took 10,000 years to warm the world 4 degrees Celsius at the end of the last ice age. Under current human fossil fuel burning scenarios, it is likely that we reach half that threshold in just 150 to 170 years — from 1880 to 2030-2050. A rapid reduction in fossil fuel emissions along a progression to a net carbon negative human society over the next few decades is absolutely necessary to prevent these outcomes. And while model forecasts indicating the potential for a Super El Nino type event for late 2015 may be somewhat uncertain, there is a much higher certainty that very dangerous climate impacts starting at the current level of human warming will ramp up here on out — with the 1.5 C threshold looking very bad and the 2.0 C threshold looking terrible.

As such, we should do all we can to prevent hitting those marks.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

NOAA Seasonal and Monthly SST Anomalies

The Storms of My Grandchildren

Far Worse than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick

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