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November of 2017 was the Third Hottest on Record Despite La Nina

According to NASA GISS, November of 2017 was the third hottest such month in the 137 year global climate record. This continues a trend of warming that began with fossil fuel burning at the start of the Industrial Revolution and that has recently hit new intensity during the 2014 – 2017 period.

NASA warming trend growing more extreme

(NASA color coded warming trend since 1901. Note the very extreme departures in the recent period since 2014. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Counting in November, 2017 is now solidly on track to be the second hottest year in the global climate record — trailing 2016 and edging out 2015. This new record was achieved despite the fact that La Nina emerged later in the year.

La Nina is a periodic cooling of Equatorial Pacific surface waters that also has a cooling influence over the Earth’s atmosphere when it emerges. The fact that we are on track to be experiencing the second hottest year on record, despite La Nina the cooling influence of La Nina which has been largely over-ridden, should be setting off at least a few warning lights.

Overall, temperatures for November were 0.87 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline and 1.09 C warmer than 1880s averages. Taking into account temperatures during early to middle December — which show a continuation of November ranges — it is likely that 2017 overall will average around 1.1 C warmer than 1880s averages once all the tallies are counted. Edging out 2015 by 0.01 to 0.03 C (see Dr Gavin Schmidt’s graph above).

By contrast, 2015 was a year in which the Pacific was ramping up toward a strong El Nino. So the La Nina signal for 2017 is important by comparison — validating numerous observations from climate scientists and climate observers that global temperatures have taken another step up (one of many due to human based heat forcing, primarily due to fossil fuel burning) without any indication of a step down.

(November 2017 sea surface temperature [SST] anomaly map at top shows evident La Nina pattern over the Equatorial Pacific. This should be creating a relative cooling signal. November 2015 SST anomaly map shows build up to El Nino type conditions. The fact that we will likely experience a warmer year in 2017 than in 2015 despite this contrast is a notable indicator for human-forced climate change and a continuing warming trend. Image source: NOAA.)

Regional analysis for November (see NASA map below) shows a very strong polar amplification signal with the highest Latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere displaying the most extreme temperature departures. Latitude 80-90 N showed the greatest zonal anomaly at around 5.5 C above average. While the global hot spot in NE Siberia hit an amazing 9.3 C above average for the month. Polar amplification was also more evident over Antarctica during the month with temperatures ranging from 1.5 to 2 C above average in the region of 75 to 80 S Latitude. This was significant given the fact that anomalous polar warming relative to past temperature trends tends to take a step back during late spring and summer months (it was late austral spring in November).

(Global anomalies map shows very extreme polar warming during November of 2017 with few regions of the globe experiencing below average temperatures. Image source: NASA GISS.)

It is worth noting that very few regions experienced temperatures below NASA’s 20th Century baseline. That regions experiencing temperatures below 1880s averages were even more scarce. And that the global cool spot at 4.1 C below average was less than half the amplitude of the most extreme warm departure (9.3 C).

The last time temperatures were globally below average during any month was in 1985. Which means that if you’re younger than 32, you’ve never experienced a below average month globally. Presently temperatures are so extreme now that globally below average single days are almost entirely a thing of the past. Warming has thus thrust us well outside the typical range of variability. And as a result, we are experiencing temperature, rainfall, fire, drought, snow, sea level, and storm conditions that are increasingly outside the norm, that are increasingly difficult to manage and adapt to. A trend that will continue so long as we keep burning fossil fuels. So long as the Earth keeps warming.

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Denying The Neverending Heatwave: NASA, NOAA, JMA Show 2014 Broke New Records; But Will Republicans Ever Listen to Science?

If you are younger than 29 years old, you haven’t lived in a month that was cooler than the 20th century average. — Dr. Marshall Shepherd, former President of the American Meteorological Society

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Strong global temperature records typically show up in all the major climate monitors. And, despite no El Nino providing an added kick to atmospheric heating, that’s exactly what happened in 2014.

Respectively Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA), NASA and NOAA all showed 2014 as the hottest year in the global climate record. And the departures were all quite strong with JMA showing +0.63 C, NASA showing +0.68 C, and NOAA showing +0.69 C above the 20th Century average — all measures that put the world now in the range of +0.9 C warming since the 1880s.

Not only was this year the hottest on record for the global climate. It was one in many progressively hotter years and decades. The result being that if you were born in 1986, you haven’t experienced one month that has been cooler than the 20th Century average.

Decadal and Yearly Warming NOAA

(Decadal and yearly warming since 1880 as recorded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s a brutal warming trend that has propelled us, in just 1 Century, into a time hotter than any in at least 5,000 years and probably 150,000 years. Continued warming at this pace will put us hotter than at any time in 1 million years before mid century and that is without any of the predicted acceleration due to amplifying feedbacks such as Arctic carbon release, loss of Arctic albedo due to snow and ice melt and greening, and loss of the oceans as a global carbon sink. Image source: NOAA and Climate Progress.)

It’s a set of validated evidence that is so obvious as to be incontrovertible.

And yet the climate games and silliness still occur with regularity in the public sphere. In the most recent republican witching hour congressional approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — a piece of infrastructure that will shackle the US to climate-wrecking carbon emissions for decades to come — Bernie Sanders submitted an amendment asking republicans to record their climate change denial for the public record. A denial a majority of republicans, including most major party heads, now attest to, despite what the science is obviously saying.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sanders noted:

“The bottom line is that I think as a nation that we walk down a very dangerous road when the majority party in the United States Congress is prepared to reject science. I think it is important for Republicans to tell their constituents, to tell the American people, and to tell the world whether they agree with the science or not.”

More notably, Senator Jim Inhofe, who currently sits as chairman of the environment and public works committee has publicly claimed that he believes climate change is a hoax. But what Inhofe doesn’t elaborate is why scientists who spend their lives in service to the public, and not to special interests, like the oil, gas and coal companies Inhofe often goes to bat for in Congress, would perpetrate such a hoax. Because if it is a hoax it is broad and all-encompassing — including every major atmospheric sciences body in the world today. In other words, if Inhofe believes NASA put a man on the moon, then why doesn’t he believe the same scientific body on the issue of climate change?

Climate Scientist Michael Mann gave his own very clear take of the new record today on Facebook. Mann noted that the current new record, especially when viewed in context of the fact that we currently see no El Nino but still hit annual heat records, can put to rest the recent false assertions that atmospheric warming has paused.

As ever, Mann provides a very clear assessment:

Based on the collective reports, it is therefore fair to declare 2014 the warmest year on record. This is significant for a number of reasons. Unlike past record years, 2014 broke the record without the “assist” of a large El Niño event. There was only the weakest semblance of an El Niño and tropical Pacific warmth contributed only moderately to the record 2014 global temperatures.

Viewed in context, the record temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change. It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.

The record temperatures *should* put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause” in Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-will-cross-the-climate-danger-threshold-by-2036/) in global warming.

There is a solid body of research now showing that any apparent slow-down of warming during the past decade was likely due to natural short-term factors (like small changes in solar output and volcanic activity) and internal fluctuations related to e.g. the El Nino phenomenon. The record 2014 temperatures underscore the fact that global warming and associated climate changes continue unabated as we continue to raise the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Mann was joined by lead NASA GISS scientist Gavin Schmidt who pointed out the inexorable global warming of ‘decades and decades.’ Schmidt noted that individual years rankings can be slung about through the forces of chaotic weather. But the trend, Schmidt asserted, was undeniable.

Dr. Schmidt’s research has been critical in understanding the role of both CO2 as the primary governing gas impacting global heating as well as the amplifying heat of additional greenhouse gasses. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Dr. Schmidt provided critical evidence highlighting the atmospheric warming impact of methane, for example.

NASA and Dr Schmidt provide their own brief on the issue which can be viewed here:

Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, who is now engaged in cutting edge research on the issue of changes in the Jet Stream due to polar amplification, joins the litany of influential scientists in speaking out on the new record. Of the impact of the 2014 high heat mark she plainly states: “Any wisps of doubt that human activities are at fault are now gone with the wind.”

NOAA’s own global analysis this year comes with a near-endless list of record flood and drought events ongoing throughout 2014. I highly suggest you read the report. The language is dry, but the list of record events is staggering, even to someone like myself who is treated to these events on a daily basis. They’re exactly the kind of outlier events that are the upshot of meridional patterns, polar amplification, and the meandering Jet Streams identified by Dr. Francis. A list of extreme instances that propelled 2014 into another record-breaking year for natural disasters, according to Munich Re:

Natural Disater List Munich Re

(List of natural disasters in number of instances per year as reported by Munich Re. Image source: Climate Progress.)

The evidence is there. All of it. For any thinking person. The public-serving, and often conservative in their assessments, scientists keep making their warnings again and again like a collective modern Jeremiah. And yet we have one political party whose leaders simply refuse to listen to either facts or even the most basic reason.

So in the face of such blantant and obvious denial of reality by the very people who are supposed to be responsibly leading our country, one must seriously consider the notion of running them out of office. Of stopping their legislative malpractice before it results in ever more serious trouble for us all. And not just for all the sakes of the scientists and those who believe them, but for the sake of the climate change deniers too.

Mauna Loa Methane Measure Shows Rising Rates of Increase Through End 2014

Mauna Loa Methane early December

(Atmospheric methane levels as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

Atmospheric methane levels as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) showed a continued steepening rate of increase through late 2014 — featuring one rather troubling spike late last month.

The measure, which has been recording atmospheric methane levels since the middle of the 20th Century, continued to ramp higher with readings hitting an average of 1850 parts per billion by late November.

Notably, this increase is at a faster pace than yearly averages for all of the last decade.

In addition, a single spike to 1910 parts per billion took place last month. This large departure of 60 parts per billion above the average was somewhat unusual for the Mauna Loa measure. The collection site is rather far from human or Arctic emissions sources which makes it less likely to feature anomalous spikes due to local influences. This particular spike also represents the largest single departure from the base line measure since 1984 (when the ESRL record begins).

Overall drivers of the more recent increase in global methane levels beginning around 2007 come from an increase in human emissions (likely due to rising rates of fossil fuel exploitation — primarily through hydrofracking and coal mining) as well as what appears to also be an increase in Arctic emissions. Large methane sources in Siberia, over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, in the Laptev Sea, the Nares Strait, and west of Svalbard have been observed in both satellite monitors and through observations taken by scientists and researchers on the ground. Overall, a significant overburden of greenhouse gasses centers on the Arctic and appears to be enhanced by local carbon (methane and CO2) sources in the region.

More comprehensive measurements of methane releases over Alaska (according to NASA JPL), on the other hand, have not yet shown methane release departures above the global norm for land areas. But the observational record for Alaska composes just one year (2012), so there is no way to yet determine if permafrost carbon and methane releases from the tundra in that region increased to achieve their current rates. It is worth noting generally that the terrestrial zone for Alaska and its off shore region are not, as yet, major carbon release hot spots.

Global Warming Potential at Least 20 Times CO2

Methane (CH4) is an important greenhouse gas due to the fact that its global warming potential (GWP) over short periods is much higher when compared to a similar volume of CO2 (most measures consider the GWP of methane to be 20 times that of a similar volume of CO2). That said, methane’s residence time in the atmosphere is much shorter than CO2 and CO2 volumes are much larger. So CO2 is considered to be a more important gas when it comes to long term climate change. Nonetheless, CH4 increases since the start of the industrial revolution put it as the #2 gas now forcing the world to warm.

Very large outbursts of CH4 from the global carbon store (including terrestrial and ocean stores) during the Permian and PETM are hypothesized to have set off very rapid increases in global temperature. For some prominent researchers, this potential hazard is seen to be very low under current warming conditions. Others, however, seem very concerned that a rapid methane outburst under the very fast rate of human warming could be a tipping point we are fast approaching.

Observations in a Murky Scientific Context

It is important to note that the current profile of atmospheric methane increase does not yet look like one of catastrophic release. Instead, what we see is an overall ramping up of atmospheric levels.

The issue of catastrophic release potential — raised by Peter Wadhams, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, and Dr. Simeletov and Shakhova among others — is not one that is certain or settled in the science.

As an example, Dr. Shakhova identifies a substantial but non-catastrophic 17 megaton atmospheric release from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (equal to about 8 percent of the human emission and a substantial increase from a previous estimate of 8 megatons per year in 2010) as currently ongoing. However, both Simeletov and Shakhova have been the object of criticism due to their identification of a risk of a 3.5 gigaton per year methane release should all the East Siberian Arctic Shelf methane hot spots become active. Such a release would, in one year, nearly double the amount of all methane currently in the atmosphere (5 gigatons).

Dr. Peter Wadhams, another Arctic expert, has also received criticism for his assessment that a 50 gigaton release from the large subsea Arctic methane stores could be possible as sea ice retreat spurs Arctic Ocean sea floors to warm.

Other scientists such as GISS lead Gavin Schmidt and prominent Earth Systems modeler David Archer have noted that such very large releases aren’t currently likely. They point to natural traps that tend to tamp down sea based release rates (sometimes stopping as much as 90 percent of a destabilized methane source from hitting the atmosphere). They also note that current warming has probably not yet exceeded levels seen during the Eemian (130,000 years ago) and no large methane releases were observed at that time from Arctic carbon stores like the ESAS. They tend to take the view that any increasing rate of release coming from Arctic methane stores in particular and Arctic carbon stores in general will be very slow — so slow as to not be a significant amplifier of human warming (less than 5 percent) this century.

In general, between these two rather extreme and increasingly polarized views on Arctic methane, there appears to be very little in the way of middle ground. Although, a loosely related survey of permafrost carbon experts found a consensus opinion that the total carbon emission (including CO2 and methane) from land based tundra alone would equal between 10 and 35 percent of the current annual human emission by the end of this Century. It’s worth noting that this survey assessment does not include potential releases from the submerged permafrost in the ESAS or releases from other global carbon stores as a result of human warming.

The current rapid pace of human-caused warming — heating some regions of the Arctic as fast as 0.5 to 1 C per decade — also caused some of Archer and Schmidt’s scientific forebears, particularly James Hansen, to be rather less dismissive of the potential for a significant release from global methane stores, especially those in the Arctic. In any case, current human greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 50 gigatons CO2e each year are now in the process of pushing global temperatures past Eemian thresholds. An excession likely to elevate Anthropocene temperatures beyond all Eemian estimates before the mid 2030s under current rates of global greenhouse gas emissions and expected increases in fossil fuel burning.

So it is in this murky scientific context that we must interpret risks involving a continuing and apparently ramping rate of atmospheric methane increase. And what we can say with certainty is that there is little evidence that we are now hitting an exponential rise in global atmospheric methane levels. But that there is some evidence that a risk for such an event is real and requires much more detailed research and public dissemination of information to put what are some very valid concerns to rest.

Links:

NOAA ESRL

Alaska Methane Survey by JPL

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