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NOAA Shows El Nino Yet to Have Full Impact on Global Temperatures — More Severe Warming During 2015 Likely in Store

2014 was the hottest year in the global climate record. It was a year when El Nino failed to get off the ground. And it was a year when CO2 levels were at or near 400 parts per million for most of the period.

Each of these points should be a matter of concern, especially as we confront a yet hotter year during 2015 in the face of a ramping El Nino and continually rising greenhouse gas concentrations from fossil fuel burning. Conditions that will likely continue to push record global heat toward ever more disturbing thresholds.

First Five Months of 2015 Hottest on Record; El Nino is Still Ramping Up

The most recent NOAA global analysis report and related updates highlight this potential and growing risk. First, NOAA data shows that the initial five months of 2015 were the hottest on record by a substantial margin. Hitting 0.85 C above the 20th Century average, this global heatwave beat out the previous hottest such period during 2010 by a substantial +0.09 C margin.

NOAA land and ocean temp anomalies

(NOAA shows extreme high temperature departures for the first five months of 2015. Image source: NOAA’s Global Analysis.)

These temperatures, basically 1.05 degrees Celsius above 1880s values in the NOAA measure, represent an extreme departure beyond norms over the past few thousands years and almost certainly exceed maximum Holocene values — putting the current age of human fossil fuel based warming in a context similar to the Eemian of 150,000 years ago. A context that is all the more dangerous and troubling due to a massive greenhouse gas overburden not seen in at least 3 million years and a very rapid ramping of overall global temperatures. A pace of warming and greenhouse gas accumulation possibly never seen in all the Earth’s deep history.

Of particular interest to the 2015 climate situation, however, is the fact that though 2010 was also an El Nino year and though 2015 has already hit significant positive temperature departures during its first five months, 2010 had already seen most of the El Nino heat build it was likely to experience by May. The Equatorial Pacific, during May of 2010 was starting a multi-month cool-down into La Nina. By contrast, 2015 is still ramping up to an El Nino event that, in some measures, is already stronger than the El Nino experienced during 2010. As a result, we are likely to see greater high temperature departures due to a ramping heat bleed coming off the Pacific as the months of 2015 continue to progress.

To this point NOAA notes:

The first five months of 2015 were the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 0.85°C (1.53°F) above the 20th century average, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.09°C (0.16°F). Consequently, 2010 was the last year with El Niño conditions; however El Niño was ending at this point in 2010, while it appears to be maturing at the same point in 2015.

NOAA’s ONI Adjustment Hints that Impact of Human Greenhouse Gas Emissions Was Greater, El Nino Less

Another issue is that NOAA also recently adjusted its Ocean Nino Index (ONI) downward for late 2014 and early 2015. ONI measures the intensity of El Nino by taking account of sea surface temperatures in the Central Pacific. What this means is that the slow start to the current El Nino was even slower and weaker than initially indicated. As a result, according to NOAA, El Nino’s variability-based influence of the record global temperatures experienced during 2014 and early 2015 was consequently less and the human greenhouse gas forcing’s impact was consequently more.

To this point it is important to emphasize that 2014 was not technically an El Nino year, yet new record high temperatures were experienced during that time. This is notable in that it implies the human heat forcing through greenhouse gas emissions is playing an ever greater role — crowding out the old signals and fluxes inherent to base natural global temperature variability.

Outside extreme weather events that are an upshot of this mangled variability have abounded during the first five months of 2015. During May, the State of Alaska experienced a massive temperature departure of 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Heat that has helped to set off a spate of extreme wildfires that now risk hazardous air quality for numerous Alaskan cities.

Bill Hurricane over Land

(Bill taking on the features of an organized cyclone over a water-logged Central US in yesterday’s MODIS shot. As of Thursday, some sections of Oklahoma has received a staggering 3 feet of rainfall in just six weeks. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The added heat appears to have also complicated normal El Nino variability by more greatly enhancing rainfall over affected regions than is typical. The Central US, in particular, has felt the brunt of this impact. During May, massive rainfall events brought flooding to Texas and Oklahoma. Sections of Oklahoma, as of yesterday, had experienced an unprecedented 3 feet of rain in just six weeks. A typical summer El Nino would somewhat enhance rainfall in this region. But not to the degree that we are seeing now. So the global warming-based amplification of the hydrological cycle is also likely in play. In this case, we see global warming and El Nino acting in concert to increase the likelihood of very extreme weather.

Though NOAA reports its data in a responsible, matter of fact, manner, it is important to consider the unprecedented nature of that information. What we are seeing is record warm years that occur increasingly outside the influence of El Nino, the ability of moderate El Nino heat flux to generate significant record global high temperature departures, and a tendency of strong El Nino periods to push global heating toward terrific ranges. These are all indications of an Earth System that is ranging ever more out of a context that the human beings and the creatures of this world are adapted to live in. Indications that we are rapidly moving toward a dangerous and extinction event producing Hothouse Climate. In this very rapid initial warming the likelihood of dangerous weather — heatwaves, fires, heavy rainfall events, intense storms — is thus increased. In addition, the push toward dangerous geophysical changes such as more rapid glacial melt and associated sea level rise becomes that much more intense and imminent.

Media Fails to Responsibly Report Warnings from Scientists, Religious Leaders

The NOAA report is a signal of a condition of increasing climate crisis that should be reported widely and with all due urgency. By contrast, the tendency of global media (especially the individually-owned megamedia monopolies such as NewsCorp) to downplay, to sweep such reports under the rug, to attack such reports outright, or to only portray them in the most narrow of contexts is therefore vastly and unforgivably irresponsible (shout out to noted exceptions like The Guardian or underground and peripheral sources like RealClimate, WeatherUnderground, The Independent, The Arctic Sea Ice Blog, Dot.Earth and ThinkProgress).

The global scientific community and major religious leaders like the Pope (see the Pope’s loud and clear urging for global climate action here) are well aware of the situation and the calls for action from these responsible, moral leaders are growing louder and more urgent. The failure of media to appropriately relay that call and to generate action on the part of the public can only be seen, at this point, as an aspect of a dangerous allegiance to destructive and amoral businesses (fossil fuel industry), to individual interests who have a financial stake in a larger failure to respond to this crisis, and to political ideologies that are so filled with hubris as to be blind to an obvious and ramping existential crisis. Media, in this case, has thus become complicit in a failure to appropriately act, enhancing the intensity of the crisis, reducing the effectiveness of the response, and worsening the harm and increasing loss of life and livelihood to follow. A continuation of this failure would constitute nothing less than complicity in climate change denial and related harms. History, should history remain in tact following a failure to fully respond, will judge such a failure in the harshest possible terms.

Links:

NOAA’s Global Temperature Analysis (Support Public, Non-Special Interest Based Science)

NOAA ONI Index

LANCE MODIS

The Pope’s Call for Climate Action

Hat Tip to Tom Cobbler

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Sixth Lowest Sea Ice Extent on Record Leaves 35,000 Walruses Stranded

(FAA blocks flights over stranded walruses in order to prevent panic. US Fish and Wildlife Service considers adding protection to walruses as endangered species after late summer stranding due to loss of sea ice.)

35,000 thousand. That’s the number of climate change refugees left stranded upon a thin strip of land along the northern coast of Alaska. The refugees, driven from their summer resting place along floating rafts of summer sea ice, have been forced to concentrate en mass for safety and foraging upon a near-ocean stretch of beach and simply wait for the sea ice’s return.

The ice they have previously used for their summer homes is simply gone. Yet one more casualty of human-driven climate change.

These refugees, of course, are walruses, members of a growing group of climate orphans who’ve lost homes and haunts due to a vicious and rapid changing of the geophysical world. All across the media this week, we’ve been witness to pictures of the mass stranding. But one wonders if we really fully understand the impact of what we are seeing — yet one more vulnerable inhabitant of the natural world now dislocated by climate change:

Walrus Mass Stranding

(Aerial photo of Walrus mass stranding. Image source — NOAA.)

The mass beaching is directly linked to devasting losses of Arctic sea ice ongoing since 2007. The sea ice serves as a kind of summer shelter for Walruses, especially for nursing pups and mothers who use the ice floating over shallow water for both a resting place and a feeding platform.

But now, the new abnormal is that walruses are stranded. The sea ice is too far off shore for it to be useful to them. So they collect in a disease amplifying huddle, rapidly stripping resources along a thin swath of shore. A fearful and vulnerable concentration of animals facing an uncertain future as brown bears prowl threateningly about them. A present in which infant walruses are vulnerable to trampling by the larger adults. A new world starkly devoid of the gentle gray whales with whom they once shared these shallow waters. The whales went on to the edge of the ice — a place now too remote for the walruses to follow.

During six of the last eight years, we’ve witnessed such events. Masses of walruses along shore that are 80 fold larger than during similar periods just 30 years ago.

 

chart

(Arctic Sea Ice Extent as measured by the National Snow and Ice Data Center for the six lowest years on record including 2014. Record lowest extent occurred during 2012 [dotted green line]. Image source: NSIDC.)

And this year the sea ice retreated far into the Beaufort, well out of even the reach of strong swimmers like walruses. A sea ice extent for the entire Arctic was sixth lowest in the record. Part of an ongoing and brutal trend that, if it continues, will strip the late summer Arctic of all sea ice during the time-frame of 2017 to 2035. A decline that has implications for all living creatures — not just the walruses. For as humans continue to force a hothouse state upon the Earth, the risk is that we all, like the walruses, become refugees living in ever more difficult and dangerous environs.

Links:

NOAA

35,000 Walruses Left on Beach Due to Climate Change

Walrus Stranding — A New Phenomena And We Don’t Know How Bad it Will Get

NSIDC

(Hat Tip to Colorado Bob)

2014 To Be Hottest Year on Record? Arctic Ocean, West Antarctic Heat Spikes Amidst Scorching End to September

Strange and anomalous heating of the Earth’s surface waters. That’s what could best characterize the year of 2014. Waters warm enough to break world records and all arrayed in extraordinarily odd distributions.

***

The Summer of 2014 (June through August) was the hottest in the 135 year global temperature record and likely the hottest in at least 100,000 years. According to the National Climate Data Center, global temperatures were 0.88 degrees Celsius above the 1880 average and 0.71 degrees Celsius above average temperatures for the 20th Century.

Summer of 2014 temperatures slightly edged out previous heat records set in 1998 by 0.01 degrees Celsius. But 1998 was a year during which a raging El Nino was dumping immense volumes of Pacific Ocean heat into the atmosphere. This year, summer conditions displayed Pacific Ocean warmth in the Nino regions — but nowhere near enough heat anomaly to shove the equatorial region into El Nino status. So a luke-warm equatorial Pacific and possible pre El Nino in 2014 when combined with a raging human heat forcing of the atmosphere is enough to beat out the super El Nino of 1998 for record hottest summer, even if only by a hair.

Global land and ocean temperature anomalies summer 2014

(Summer of 2014 beats out 1998 as hottest on record amidst steady and ongoing rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Image source: NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.)

The hottest summer on record follows the hottest May on record and could well include the hottest September on record. This is a strong trend that may well be building 2014 into the hottest year on record. And all without a pronounced El Nino so far.

For if the final four months of this year all fall within the range of first to fifth hottest, 2014 will be a record breaker.

A Very Hot End to a Hot September

Preliminary GFS measures show that September of 2014 may well be in record-challenging range with global temperatures averaging between +0.4 C to +0.7 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 period. It was a period that featured ramping polar heat amplification in both the Arctic and Antarctic. A period that followed summer of 2014 trends showing extreme high temperature departures in the Northern Pacific and even higher sea surface temperature departures in the Arctic Ocean regions near the Bering Strait.

The last day of September closed near the top of this hot temperature range with the global atmospheric anomaly at +0.69 C above the 1979 to 2000 average (which is about 0.3 to 0.4 C above the 20th Century average respectively).

September 30 temperature anomaly

(September 30 global temperature anomaly map. Image source: University of Maine.)

Analyzing the map above, we note strong polar amplification already advancing in the Arctic region with a +1.15 C positive anomaly. We would well expect this trend to continue through fall and winter due to a combination of factors including — the amplified impact of overburden greenhouse gasses during periods of seasonal darkness, a very strong observed heating of the sea surface in Arctic regions providing latent heat through the colder months, and pronounced atmospheric heat transport through ridiculously resilient ridging patterns over the northeastern Pacific and Scandinavia.

In the Southern Hemisphere, we’ve also observed an extraordinary polar heat spike ongoing over the region of West Antarctica in association with an anomalous atmospheric ridge feature in that region as well. West Antarctic temperature departures hit well above +20 C over recent days. This excessive warm anomaly was enough to drive the entire Antarctic zone to an extreme +3.09 C above that polar region’s average for this time of year. Though it is still early spring for the Antarctic, persistence of the West Antarctic ridge could have serious impacts come summer time. So the feature will bear watching.

Extreme temperature anomaly over West Antarctica

(Extreme positive temperature anomaly over West and Central Antarctica on September 30, 2014. Note the broad area of +20 C positive departure. Image source: University of Maine.)

Troubling Arctic Ocean Heat Spike

But perhaps the most troubling feature for September and, indeed, all of the summer of 2014 is a massive accumulation of far warmer than average surface ocean water in both the Northern Pacific and in the Arctic Ocean.

The Northern Pacific heat has occurred in conjunction with an anomalous 21 month long blocking pattern that has tended to fix in place a south to north flow pattern and far warmer than average land and ocean temperatures for the region. Sea surface temperatures in the range of 2-3 C above average for a swath from California to Alaska have remained in place for nearly two years running.

This feature and now prevailing associated south to north wind pattern appears to be driving warmer than normal waters through the Bering Strait and into the already vulnerable Arctic zone. There, the added warm water appears to have combined with the warming of a deeper, but sometimes surface influencing, warm water flow newly emerging from the Atlantic. These combined warm water flows have resulted in a broad swath of 4 C + above 1979 to 2000 average surface water temperatures ranging from the Bering Sea into the Chukchi, Beaufort, East Siberian, Laptev and Kara Seas of the Arctic Ocean.

Sea surface temperature anomaly global September 30

(Extreme global sea surface temperature anomaly of September 30, 2014 features extraordinary +4 C positive temperature departures in the Northern Polar Ocean. Image source: University of Maine.)

During recent years featuring very low Arctic sea ice measures, August, September and October have displayed very strong positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic. These extraordinary sea surface temperature values have tended to push global temperature averages higher with a number of global heat records set despite the presence of La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions in the Pacific. A clear instance where human-driven polar heat amplification and heating of the northern polar ocean is beginning to have a measurable and substantial impact on global temperature variation as well as overall rate of warming.

In general, we find much of the global ocean heat spike clustered near the northern polar zone. This is clearly visible in the anomaly color display on the map above together with the +0.27 C of added heat in the Northern Hemisphere surface ocean vs the Southern Hemisphere Ocean measure.

A final feature of this enhanced Arctic warming — increased instances of microbial blooms in northern ocean surface waters — was plainly visible in the MODIS shot during late September as well. In this case a massive bloom covering a 550 by 100 mile swath of the Bering Sea just south of the Bering Strait:

Microbial bloom Bering Sea September 28

(Massive Bering Sea microbial bloom as visible in the LANCE-MODIS satellite shot on September 28 of 2014. For reference, the Bering Strait is to the right of frame. Bottom edge of frame is about 500 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In these instances, concurrent with human-caused warming, large regions of newly ice free water contain higher nutrient content than more southerly waters. As the human heat forcing spurs these waters to above average temperatures, ocean microbial activity becomes more prolific — since larger numbers of microbes thrive in warmer conditions. The result has been the appearance of very large blooms in far northern waters during recent years.

Within Striking Distance of a Record Hot Year — Serious Implications For Weather and Climate

Despite a Pacific El Nino that appears to be set on slow to low burn, if the event appears at all, it appears possible that 2014 may be setting up for a record breaking year. The factors driving this event include a continued if very mild Pacific Equatorial warming together with far more troubling heat amplification driven by human greenhouse gas warming at the poles. The most troubling of these regions continues to be the Arctic. And the added heat there will almost certainly increase stress on vulnerable carbon stores as well as potentially add to the human-spurred havoc now playing out in northern hemisphere and global weather systems.

The disposition of early fall atmospheric heating with high ocean heat content near the northern polar zone certainly leaves wide the door to future polar vortex disruption come winter 2014-2015 together with providing a Jet Stream weakness that continues to facilitate Northeastern Pacific Ocean ridge development. And, in the case of the Northeastern Pacific especially, there are few challenges to that very disruptive and damaging pattern on the near term horizon (30 day).

Links:

NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

University of Maine

LANCE-MODIS

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