No Pause — NASA Shows Human Hothouse Maintaining Record High Temperatures for 2015

GISS Pulse

(What 2015 temperatures would look like on the annual graph if the +0.79 C departure maintained throughout the present year. Problem is, there’s at least some risk warming could intensify. Image from Tamino’s recent blog post which, justifiably, rips the fussy math of Anthony Watts and ‘friends’ into tiny little pieces.)

It’s an El Nino year. It’s a year in which global CO2 averages are hitting above 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 3 million years. And it’s a year in which CO2 equivalent values for all greenhouse gasses (including methane, nitrogen compounds and other exotic heat trapping gasses) that humans have emitted are nearing 485 parts per million.

Added together — the equatorial Pacific Ocean taking a break in its duties as atmospheric heat sink (El Nino) combined with the immense volume of heat trapping gasses human beings have now loaded into the atmosphere — it’s more than enough to force global temperatures into territory likely not seen since the Eemian interglacial period 150,000 years ago.

Temperatures Continue March into Eemian Ranges

And NASA GISS, in its monthly report, is showing global temperatures that are edging into the Eemian range. First, April of 2015 came in at 0.75 Celsius (C) hotter than NASA’s global 20th Century benchmark (0.95 C hotter than 1880). This represents the second hottest value for April on record in the entire 135 year climate record, coming in just a bit cooler than the 0.83 C departure for 2010. Meanwhile, hindsight adjustments have found that the January-through-March period was warmer than earlier indicated — with new departures hitting +0.76 (Jan), +0.80 (Feb), and +0.85 (Mar).

Combined, the average of these first four months is +0.79 C above 20th Century measures. Or about +0.99 C above 1880s values. This puts us well outside the context of the 10,000 year period beginning at the end of the last ice age (Holocene) and edges us into a range more typical to the Eemian. A time when sea levels were between 6 and 8 meters (20-25 feet) higher than today.

Polar Amplification and the Greenland Cool Pool

Looking at the global temperature anomaly map provided by NASA, we can see where much of this extra heat accumulated throughout April:

Global Temps NASA April 2015

(NASA GISS global temperature anomalies map for April of 2015. Image source: NASA.)

Here we find that polar amplification for the upper Northern Hemisphere latitudes was continuing to hit high marks. Broad south-to-north wind flows over central Asia drove a powerful warming spanning up from Lake Baikal in Russia, on through Central Siberia, up over the Yamal region and into the High Arctic. Average temperatures for the month in this zone ranged from 2 C to as high as 6.9 C above average. Another zone of extreme warmth sprawled out over Western North America and into the Beaufort and Chukchi Sea regions. There, temperatures ranged between 1-4 C above 20th Century averages.

Other notable warm regions included the Equatorial Pacific — showing a band of 1-2 C departures in association with a developing El Nino — and the West Antarctic Peninsula, which saw heating in the range of 2-4 degrees Celsius above average for most of the month.

Overall, most of the globe showed above average readings with cool pools relegated to isolated regions. In particular, the distribution of cool temperatures near Greenland is somewhat disturbing. It’s an indication of increased glacial melt outflows from Greenland ice sheets into the North Atlantic. It’s also a validation of climate model analysis of human-caused global warming — which indicated cooling near Greenland due to a combination of ice sheet and ocean responses to heating the Earth-Ocean System. The ocean response — a dangerous slowing of Atlantic thermo-haline circulation — was also identified in a recent paper by Rahmstorf.

Zonal anomalies April of 2015

(NASA Latitudinal temperature anomalies again shows strength of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification. Image source: NASA.)

NASA zonal anomalies also continue to validate climate model predictions for human-caused warming. Here we find the predicted extreme polar amplification — more rapid warming of the Northern Hemisphere polar zone than the rest of the world — clearly indicated. There, in the 60-90 North Latitude zone we find temperatures ranging from 1-3.5 Celsius above the 20th Century global average. A rate of warming far exceeding any other region.

All other Latitudinal zones show about a +0.75 C above average temperature departure. The first noted exception is the heat sink in the Southern Ocean (at -0.5 to +0.5 C in this measure) which continues to uptake atmospheric heat, transfer it to the middle ocean and, by Ekman pumping through storm action, deliver it exactly where it is least needed — along the basal regions of various melting Antarctic ice shelves. The second is marked by a zone of March-April storm intensification along the Antarctic Continent and Southern Ocean boundary centering at 75 degrees South (-0.5 to -1 C).

Conditions in Context

Overall, temperatures at +0.99 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages for the first four months of 2015 should be cause for concern. We still have El Nino ramping up in the Pacific. And with some models showing the event could be quite powerful, the added boost to global heating we are seeing now could well ramp higher later this year. In addition, we are entering an Arctic melt season that is showing some risk of pushing Arctic sea ice into new record lows — at least early in the melt season. Such an event would further tilt the globe toward record heat by reducing ice-based light and heat reflectivity in the Arctic at times of 24 hour sunlight (May through July).

As such, there is risk that already record warming seen since 2014 and into 2015 could continue and, potentially, ramp higher through the end of this year.

Links:

NASA GISS

Standing on the Shores of Disaster

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell

Catch 22 No 1

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blowing Toward Monster El Nino

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

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NOAA: Nearly Ice Free Arctic Summers Likely To Come Sooner, Current Sea Ice Melt Models Too Slow, But Still Useful

In a recent press release, NOAA has revised its predictions for an ice-free or nearly ice free Arctic Ocean.

The statement publicizes work by two scientists, James Overland and Muyin Wang who have now incorporated three methods of determining when an ice free or nearly ice free Arctic is most likely to manifest. Their work recently published in Geophysical Research Letters and is available there.

Overland notes:

“Rapid Arctic sea ice loss is probably the most visible indicator of global climate change; it leads to shifts in ecosystems and economic access, and potentially impacts weather throughout the northern hemisphere. Increased physical understanding of rapid Arctic climate shifts and improved models are needed that give a more detailed picture and timing of what to expect so we can better prepare and adapt to such changes. Early loss of Arctic sea ice gives immediacy to the issue of climate change.”

Wang adds:

“There is no one perfect way to predict summer sea ice loss in the Arctic. So we looked at three approaches that result in widely different dates, but all three suggest nearly sea ice-free summers in the Arctic before the middle of this century.”

The three approaches Wang and Overland incorporated:

1. A trends analysis that predicts nearly ice free conditions by around 2020. This analysis takes into account past average rates of sea ice loss and extrapolates it forward in time. The analysis Wang and Overland put together establish a nearly ice free state by 2020.

2. A stochastic approach that incorporates a higher natural variability with large, somewhat random, melt events resulting in a near ice-free state by or before 2030.

3. A model approach which still shows nearly ice free summers occurring during a period between 2040 to 2080.

Wang and Overland note that the model predictions are likely to be much slower than actual melt. That said, they defended the models saying it was necessary to continue their development in order to better understand the Arctic climate.

Overall, this represents a rapid shift on the part of NOAA. Past official estimates were for near ice free conditions being most likely after the first half of the 21rst century. But with rapid melt trends pushing for a much sooner melt date, NOAA has adjusted its forecast. Given this most recent paper, Wang and Overland seem to indicate a most likely near ice free state in a time period of 2020-2050.

NOAA’s Predictions in Context

It is my opinion that the range NOAA gives of between 2020 to 2050, with caveats that model predictions are likely to be too slow, is still a bit too conservative in that it fails to give warning to the rising risk of an almost immediate melt. Just following current melt trends brings us to a completely ice-free Arctic by 2017. Any single melt year like 2007 or 2010 (volume) brings us to an ice free or nearly ice free state in one year.

Perhaps NOAA could add another set of circumstances to its analysis — the exponential melt trend analysis. Such a trend would incorporate the risk of a near immediate melt, warn the public and governments of the potential for such an event and give NOAA a more realistic near ice free range of 2015-2050.

In doing this, NOAA would acknowledge the potential for an ice-free or nearly ice-free state within the current decade. This acknowledgement is important from the standpoint of emergency preparedness. An ice free Arctic and the likely climate mayhem it would produce is not something we generally want to remain unaware of.

Risk assessment forecasts provided at this blog and incorporating sea ice volume data from PIOMAS show a 10% chance of an ice free or nearly ice free state this year, with a high risk (60% chance) of an ice free state by 2017. Some polar experts like Peter Wadhams believe that the Arctic will reach an ice-free state as soon as 2015-2016. Wadhams has spent thousands of hours researching the ice aboard navy submarines. So if there’s someone who knows sea ice, it’s Wadhams.

While negative feedbacks that slow the loss of sea ice may emerge, any prediction for a near ice free state after 2020 hangs its hopes on those, yet to emerge, melt inhibitors. More likely, the reduced resilience of the ice will compound with a warming climate to push melt to occur with a bang and not a long, drawn-out whimper. Further, the fact that the ocean upon which the ice rests is collecting a greater volume of human produced warming is likely to enhance bottom melt regardless of atmospheric temperatures, even in winter time. We can see this in the catastrophic volume losses observed even during the coldest months with current peak volumes comparable to those of the warmer months during the 1980s.

If current volume trends bear out, we see ice free winter states by 2040. Something neither the models, nor NOAA have on their public radar.

What is happening in the Arctic currently constitutes the beginning of a global climate and weather emergency. The UK Met recently called an emergency meeting due to a rapid shifting in the UK climate as a result of catastrophic sea ice melt. Such emergency sessions are likely to become more common as time goes forward. NOAA’s movement on this matter does represent an increased alertness to the scope of the problem and should be applauded. The work of their scientists and modelers has enabled a greater understanding of the Arctic than ever before. However, for scientists to remain on the cutting edge, they will have to adjust to events far more rapidly than in the past. They will also need to begin to acknowledge the potential for dangerous outlier events.

The current NOAA statement strikes a balance between the traditional conservatism of science and the need to acknowledge an Arctic undergoing catastrophic change far more rapidly than anyone expected. Thus, it represents progress. That said, if current trends bear out, these still somewhat conservative predictions of near ice free conditions via NOAA may soon be moot.

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