Record-Hot 2016 Marks the Start of Bad Climate Consequences, Provides “Fierce Urgency” to Halt Worse Harms to Come

“…there is now strong evidence linking specific [extreme] events or an increase in their numbers to the human influence on climate.” — Coumou and Rahmstorf 2012.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. …We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.'” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. [emphasis added]

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2016 is on track to be a record-hot year for the history books. Accumulations of heat-trapping gasses in the range of 402 ppm CO2 and 490 ppm CO2e have pushed the global temperature trend into an inexorable upward rise. Meanwhile, increasingly severe climate change-related events ranging from mass coral bleaching, to glacial and sea ice melt, to tree death, to ocean health decline, to the expanding ranges of tropical infectious diseases, to worsening extreme weather events have occurred the world over. This global temperature spike and related ramp-up of extreme events continued throughout a year that is setting up to follow 2014 and 2015 as the third record-hot year in a row.

(2015 saw a substantial jump in global temperatures. 2016 is also on track to hit new record highs. The above graph, by Gavin Schmidt of NASA GISS, provides a vivid illustration of an inexorable warming trend with 2016 as the hottest year yet. According to Gavin, a strong new record for 2016 appears to be a lock. Image source: Climate of Gavin.)

Now, after NASA’s report showing that September 2016 was 1.13 C hotter than 1880s averages (or 0.91 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline measure), this year is setting up to be the warmest ever recorded by a wide margin. Overall, the first nine months of 2016 have averaged 1.25 C above 1880s temperatures. Meanwhile, the climate year — which runs from December through November — is tracking 1.26 C above 1880s temperatures during the ten-month period of December to September.

2016 as much as 1.25 C Hotter than 1880s Averages

As a result, it appears likely that 2016 will see temperatures in the range of 1.19 C to 1.25 C hotter than 1880s averages. That’s about 0.1 C hotter than 2015 — which is pretty significant considering the fact that the average rate of decadal warming (the rounded rate of global warming every 10 years) has been in the range of 0.15 C since the late 1970s. This year’s temperatures now appear set to exceed 1998’s values by around 0.35 C — or about one-third of the entire warming total seen since large-scale human greenhouse gas emissions began during the late 19th century. This excession should permanently put to rest previous widely circulated false notions that global warming somehow stopped following the strong El Nino year of 1998.

Many responsible sources are now warning that current temperatures are uncomfortably close to two major climate thresholds — 1.5 C global warming and 2.0 C global warming. At the current rate of warming, we appear set to exceed the 1.5 C mark in the annual measure in just one to two decades. Hitting 2 C by or before mid-century has become a very real possibility. Scientists have been urging the global community to avoid 2 C warming before 2100 (and 1.5 C if at all possible), but the current path brings us to that level of warming in just over 30-50 years, not over the 84 years remaining in this century. And just maintaining current rates of warming without significant added feedbacks from the Earth System would result in Earth hitting close to 3 C warming by 2100 — a level that would inflict severe harm to life on Earth, including human civilizations.

september-of-2016

(According to NASA, September 2016 edged out September 2014 as the hottest September in the 136-year climate record. This occurred while the Equatorial Pacific was flipped into a cool phase, which tends to lower global temperatures. Despite this natural variability-related switch pulling global temperatures down, NASA shows a globe in which few regions experienced below-average temperatures and where the highest concentration of record-warm temperatures are centered near the northern polar region. This display of counter-trend warming and strong polar amplification are both signature effects of human-caused climate change. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Focusing back on 2016, it appears the La Nina that struggled throughout August and early September is again making a decent attempt to form, at least as a weak event. This should tend to pull October, November and December temperatures into the 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s departure range. As a result, final averages for 2016 should be slightly lower than averages for the period running from December to September. But, as noted above, we are still on track to see a very significant jump above the 2015 end atmospheric temperature totals.

Climate Impacts from Added Global Heat Continue to Worsen

All this extra heat in the system will work to worsen the already extreme climate and weather events we are seeing. Potentials for droughts, floods, heatwaves and wildfires will increase. High atmospheric moisture loading will continue to pump up peak storm potentials when storms do form. Added heat will tend to accumulate at the poles more than in the tropics or middle latitudes. As a result, upper-level wind patterns will likely continue to see more anomalous features along a worsening trend line. Ice in all forms will see stronger heat forcings overall, adding risk that both land and sea ice melt rates will increase.

impacts-to-the-cryosphere

(In the mid-2010s, Earth entered a temperature range averaging 1 C above pre-industrial levels. Such temperatures begin to threaten key climate impacts like permafrost thaw, 3-4 meters of sea-level rise from West Antarctic Ice Sheet melt, risk of up to 80 percent mountain glacier loss, complete Arctic sea ice loss during summer, and 6-7 meters of sea level rise from Greenland melt. In the near 1 C range, risks of these impacts, though a possibility, remain somewhat lower. But as temperatures approach 1.5 and 2 C above pre-industrial levels, risks rise even as West Antarctic glacial melt and polar ocean acidification start to become serious factors. Image source: Solving the Climate Stalemate.)

At 1 to 1.3 C above 1880s levels, we should see a quickening in the rate of sea-level rise. How much is uncertain. However, this temperature range is very close to peak Eemian Stage levels when oceans were around 15 to 25 feet higher than they are today. The current rapid rate of temperature change will also continue to have worsening impacts on creatures who are adapted to inhabit specific climate zones. The rapid rise in global temperatures is forcing an equally rapid movement of climate zones toward the poles and up mountains. This affects pretty much all life on Earth and unfortunately some species will be hard-pressed to handle the insult as certain habitats basically move off-planet. This impact is particularly true for corals, trees and other species that are unable to match the rapid pace of climate zone motion. We have already seen very severe impacts in the form of mass coral and tree death the world over. Warming in the 1 to 1.3 C range also provides an increasing ocean stratification pressure — one that has already been observed to increase the prevalence of ocean dead zones and one that will tend to shrink overall ocean vitality and productivity.

Fierce Urgency For Climate Action

Despite all these negative impacts, we are still currently outside the boundary of the worst potential results of climate change. Stresses are on the rise from various related factors, but these stresses have probably not yet reached a point of no return for human civilization and many of the reefs, forests, and living creatures we have grown to cherish. Rapid mitigation through a swift transition away from fossil fuels is still possible. Such a response now has a high likelihood of successfully protecting numerous civilizations while saving plant and animal species across the planet. That said, at this point, some damage is, sadly, unavoidable. But the simple fact that we are now starting to face the harmful consequences of a century and a half of fossil fuel burning is no excuse for inaction. To the contrary, the beginning of these harms should serve as a clarion call for our redoubled efforts.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA ESRL

NOAA El Nino

Climate of Gavin

The Truth About Climate Change

COP 21: Why 2 C?

Solving the Climate Stalemate

Hat tip to Kevin Jones

Hat tip to Florifulgurator

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July was the Hottest Month Ever Recorded; 2016 Set to Make 1998 Look Cold by Comparison

July 2016 was the warmest July in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NASA GISS.

2016 — 99 Percent Likely to be the Hottest Year on Record by a Big Margin

In 1998, the world went through a big heat wave. In just one year, global temperatures jumped by about 0.15 degrees Celsius above previous record highs. Riding on the wave of an extraordinarily powerful El Nino, atmospheric CO2 that was then in the range of about 365 parts per million (and CO2e — CO2-equivalent greenhouse gasses — in the range of 415 ppm) pushed global temperatures to around 0.9 C above 1880s averages by year-end.

This extreme heat set off a rash of weather and climate disasters around the world. A global coral bleaching event sparked off. At that time it was only one of a few ever recorded and was seen by scientists as one of the early warning signs of global warming. Droughts, floods, and fires occurred with a then-unprecedented frequency. Some began to wonder if the bad effects of climate change were starting to take hold.

But 1998 was just a mild foretaste of what was to come. In the years that followed, new global temperature records were breached time and time again. 1998 was swiftly surpassed by 2005 which was again beaten out by 2010, then 2014 and finally 2015. Now, 2016 looks like it will end around 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. It appears that in just three years, the world will have warmed by more than 0.2 C. In the 18-year period since 1998 the world’s long and worsening hot spell will have increased its top range by as much as 0.3 degrees C, or more than 30 percent.

Gavin Schmidt, NASA GISS head, tells this tale far more succinctly, stating:

July data are out, and what do you know, still 99% chance of a new annual record in 2016.

2016 Hottest Year on Record

(Can you pick out 1998 on this graph? Look hard. You might find it… Driven on by record levels of atmospheric greenhouse gasses in the range of 490 ppm CO2e, global temperatures are in the process of spiking to around 1.2 C above 1880s averages in 2016. Climate scientists like Gavin Schmidt indicate that there’s a 99 percent chance that this year will be the hottest ever recorded. Image source: Gavin Schmidt.)

Another way to sum up how much the world has warmed since 1998 is the observation that the coolest months and years going forward are likely to be hotter than 1998 average temperatures. In other words, if we saw 1998 global temperatures now, it would be anomalously cold. The Earth’s natural cycling between La Nina and El Nino is, at this time, highly unlikely to produce a year as cool as 1998.

Hitting a New High Mark for Global Heat

As for 2016, the unbroken tally of record hot months has grown incredibly long. July itself, in NASA’s most recent announcement, has come in at about 1.06 C hotter than 1880s averages (and 0.84 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline). This makes the month we just went through the hottest month ever recorded in the global climate record by a substantial 0.1 C margin (beating out July of 2011 as the previous record-holder).

GISTEMP Anomaly

(Due to strong land-surface warming during summer in the Northern Hemisphere, July is typically the hottest month of the year. July 2016 was both the hottest July on record and the hottest ever month in the past 136 years of recordkeeping. Image source: NASA.)

At this point, you have to go all the way back to September of 2015 to find a month that isn’t now a new record-holder. And, as you can see in the month-to-month comparison graph above by NASA, many of the recent records have been very strong indeed.

Such heat has brought with it every manner of trouble. From droughts in the Amazon rainforest, to record-low sea ice levels, to worsening droughts, to a global rash of floods and wildfires, to the longest-running coral bleaching event ever recorded, to expanding ocean dead zones and lakes and riverways choked with algae, to tropical viruses like Zika marching northward as anthrax-carrying deer are coughed up out of the thawing permafrost, to the loss and destabilization of glacial ice around the planet, the picture of the world in 2016 is one of a place suffering far greater and wider-ranging climate disruptions than during 1998.

Now, given the considerable difference in impacts over just an 18-year time period and an approximate 0.3 C temperature increase, imagine what another 18 years and another 0.3 C or greater would unleash.

Portrait of the Hottest Month Ever — More Arctic Warming

July was just one part of this big upward jump in global temperatures and related extreme climate conditions. The distribution of that heat showed that climate-change-related polar amplification was still in full swing up north.

Above-average temperatures continued to concentrate near the vulnerable Arctic. NASA shows that temperatures in the region of 75 to 90° North Latitude ranged from around 1.4 to 2.1 C above normal. Such record-warm readings were likely due to loss of sea ice and consequent albedo reductions in the region of the Beaufort Sea and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (see Arctic map here). Peak temperature departures in this zone hit as high as 7.7 C above average for the month — pretty extreme for northern polar July.

Conversely, a small pool of slightly cooler-than-normal readings hovered over the East Siberian Sea. But this small region was far milder, achieving only a peak 2 C departure below 20th-century norms.

GISS Temperature Map July 2016

(The hottest month on record globally shows highest above-average temperatures exactly where we don’t need them — in the Arctic north of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, near the Yamal Peninsula and the Kara Sea, and in the south over West Antarctica. Image source: NASA.)

The broader region from Latitudes 35° S to 75° N saw temperatures ranging between 0.7 and 1.4 C above the NASA 20th-century baseline. This included the Equator at around 0.8 C above average despite the cooling effects of the Eastern Pacific which was starting to tilt toward La Nina conditions.

From 35° S to the pole, temperatures rapidly fall off for July with the region from 75° to 90° S seeing 1 to 1.6 C negative temperature departures. It’s worth noting that this Antarctic region was the only area to experience widespread below-average temperatures on the globe. Even so, West Antarctica stood as a noted warm outlier in this single large cool pool, with temperatures for most of the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent inland regions hitting 4 C or more above normal.

Outlook — Predicted La Nina is Weak; Northern Polar Amplification is Strong

Cooler surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific are predicted to produce a weak, late La Nina for 2016 and early 2017. This event is not expected to be anywhere near as strong as the significant 2010 to 2012 La Nina. As a result, it will likely have a lesser overall downward effect on global surface temperatures.

GFS global temperature tracking

(GFS global temperature tracking indicates that August is likely to be as warm or slightly warmer than July, which puts this month within striking distance of another consecutive monthly global high temperature record. Image source: Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis.)

On the other hand, as August and September roll into October and November, Northern Hemisphere polar amplification is likely to intensify and this will tend to further buffer the downward temperature swing typically produced by La Nina. Therefore, it’s not likely that August to December temperatures will fall outside of the 0.95 to 1.15 C June-July temperature differential from 1880s ranges.

Current GFS model tracking for August (see image above) hints at a likely range between 1.05 and 1.15 C above 1880s values, which means that August is currently on track to challenge previous all-time temperature records for the month and that 2016 is continuing to solidify its extreme heat gains.

Links:

NASA GISS

Gavin Schmidt

Karsten Haustein Climate Reanalysis

BOM ENSO Forecast

NOAA ESRL

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Ridley Jack

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