1.06 C Above 1880: Climate Year 2015 Shatters All Previous Records For Hottest Ever

We knew it was going to be a record breaker. We knew that atmospheric greenhouse gasses in the range of 400 parts per million CO2 and 485 parts per million CO2e, when combined with one of the top three strongest El Ninos in the Pacific, would result in new all-time global record high temperatures. But what we didn’t know was how substantial the jump would ultimately be.

Today, the numbers were made public by NASA. And I hate to say it, but it’s a real doozy. Overall, according to NASA, Climate Year 2015 — the 12 month period from December of 2014 through November of 2015 — was 0.84 C hotter than NASA’s 20th Century Baseline. That’s 0.11 C hotter than previous hottest year 2014 and a full 0.21 C hotter than climate change deniers’ favorite cherry — 1998. In other words past record hot years are being left in the dust as the world is heating up to ever more dangerously warm global temperatures.

 

Global temperature increase

(NASA’s global temperature graph through end 2014. Climate year 2015, at 0.84 C above the NASA 20th Century baseline, is quite literally off the chart. Image source: NASA GISS.)

In any case, the current NASA Graph above is going to need some serious adjusting as the new global average for climate year 2015 is simply off the top of the chart. A new jump that gives lie to the increasingly obvious fake claim made by climate change deniers over the past two years that global warming somehow ‘paused.’

But aside from reality once again making the fossil fuel cheerleaders of the world (aka climate change deniers) look increasingly imbecilic, 2015’s new temperature increase is a visible sign of increasing climate danger. This year’s 0.84 C temperature departure above NASA’s 20th Century baseline is 1.06 C hotter than 1880s values. It’s a number just 0.44 C (or two more strong El Ninos) away from crossing the very dangerous 1.5 C threshold that nations of the world recently pledged to attempt to avoid at the Paris Climate Summit. It’s also a number more than halfway toward hitting the catastrophic 2 C warming threshold. Perhaps more ominously, Monthly temperature departures in October of 2015 hit a range of 1.06 C above the 20th Century baseline and 1.28 C above 1880s averages — shorter term ranges that are already coming close to testing the 1.5 C threshold.

Hard Work Ahead to Prevent the Most Dangerous Outcomes

Regardless of arguments about how possible or likely we are to avoid such dangerous and catastrophic warming in the future, we should recognize now that we’ve already locked in enough atmospheric and ocean heat to begin setting off dangerous geophysical changes. A world 1 C hotter than 1880 is a world of increasingly rapid sea level rise, a world of increasingly swiftly declining ocean health, a world where water security in many places is already at risk, a world of worsening droughts and deluges, a world in which the strongest storms are growing ever stronger. A world 1 C hotter than 1880 is a world that is starting to see the dangerous and damaging impacts of human-forced climate change. A place where the worst is still yet to come.

So let’s not mince words. It’s going to be bad and it’s going to get worse. How bad and how much worse depends on how rapidly the world weans itself off fossil fuels and hits net zero or net negative carbon emissions. At more than 50 billion tons of CO2e hitting the atmosphere each year now, we have a long way to go and fast. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that we’re up to the challenge. It’s getting rough out there. Let’s not tempt nature to unleash upon us the worst of the world’s climate demons. Unfortunately, a few have already slipped the bonds. But there are many more waiting if we continue along this wretched path of burning.

Links:

NASA GISS: Global Temperature Analysis

NASA GISS

Paris Climate Conference ‘At the Limits of Suicide’

UPDATES TO FOLLOW

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Polar Amplification, El Nino or Both? NASA Shows October of 2015 Was Hotter Than All of the Previous 1617 Months

If it seems we are doing a never-ending marathon of hottest posts, it’s simply because the world right now is ridiculously hot. Hotter than at any time ever seen before and being driven inexorably hotter by a combination of human greenhouse gas emissions and what appears to be a global warming weirdified El Nino that doesn’t look anything like a normal El Nino, but instead shows up as an intense blob of extreme heat sitting in a massive hot blob that makes up pretty much all of the Pacific Ocean from the Equator on north.

Busting the Top of the Global Temperature Graph

It’s in this rather crazy weather context that we find, according to NASA, October of 2015 set the bar for new hottest month in the global climate record for all of the past 135 years. That’s right, out of 1618 months in NASA’s global climate record, when comparing current readings to rolling baseline temperature averages, October of 2015 was the hottest one ever seen. A confirmation of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s findings from earlier this week. But one that, in true NASA fashion, also provides a boatload of additional data worth peeping at.

NASA global temperature graph

(With one month remaining in the December-through-November climate year, global temperature averages for the first 11 months of 2015 are now +0.819 C above the 1950-1981 NASA baseline. With November also likely to come in between +0.90 and +1.1 C hotter than normal, the 2015 yearly average is likely to come in well above the top of the chart. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Taking a glimpse at NASA’s Land-Ocean Temperature Index (LOTI), we find that October of 2015 came in at an extraordinary +1.04 C hotter than the 1950 to 1981 average or about 1.26 C hotter than 1880s averages. That’s an extreme temperature departure hitting within 0.74 C of the so-called safe limit of 2 C warming set by the UN. To put into perspective how weird and scary it is to hit such a high temperature departure, the last time temperatures were so high globally for any period of note, sea levels were between 10 and 30 feet higher than they are today. It’s another unfortunate passing of another bad climate marker on the way toward worse and worse to come if we can’t manage to stop emitting so much carbon into the atmosphere.

Overall, October of 2015 beat out the previous record hot month of January of 2007 (0.97 C above the NASA baseline) by 0.07 C. It is also the first month in the NASA monitor to exceed 1 C above the mid-to-late 20th Century range. In total, all of the top five hottest months in the global climate record have now occurred since 2007 with October 2015 (+1.04 C) coming in as hottest, January of 2007 (+0.97 C) coming in as second hottest, March of 2010 (+0.93 C) third hottest, March of 2015 (+0.90 C) fourth hottest, and September of 2014 (+0.89 C) as fifth hottest. But with the monster El Niño blowing up in the Pacific and with atmospheric greenhouse gasses pushing above 400 ppm CO2, it’s likely that many of these top five months could be replaced by new records into early next year. Moreover, the three month period of September, October, and November of 2015 now looks like it will be the first quarter year to exceed +0.9 C above the 1950-1981 baseline in the NASA record.

Warm Equator, Heating Poles

Moving on to NASA’s geospatial temperature anomalies map for the month of October, we see that much of the abnormal heat remains centered at the Poles. This despite a Godzilla El Nino belching hot air into the Equatorial region and pushing a strongly positive Arctic Oscillation. High polar temperature anomalies are an odd result during powerful El Nino periods due to the fact that warming at the Equator tends to strengthen the Polar wind field, locking cold into the upper and lower Latitudes. But over the past two months, Polar temperatures have remained extremely high despite what looks like the most powerful El Nino ever recorded tearing its way through the Pacific.

Global temperature anomalies map October of 2015

(This is what a record hot world looks like in NASA’s global temperature anomalies map. Note both the heat at the Poles and Equator along with the melt and ocean heat uptake related cool pools in the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean. Image source: NASA GISS.)

With such high polar temperatures giving what amounts to an atmospheric back-hand to the strongest El Nino on record, it’s a sign that a raging greenhouse gas driven polar amplification is becoming ever more heavily entrenched. The poles, in short, are more sensitive to global temperature swings and tend to amplify any overall warming or cooling trend. Such an additional sensitivity is due to a number of unique feedbacks that come into play in the upper Latitudes as greenhouse gas levels and global temperatures rise or fall. A circumstance that was predicted in even the earliest global climate model runs forecasting the impacts of a human forced heating of the Earth System. And it appears that this feedback-generated added warming is starting to take hold with a vengeance.

Overall, we find the highest temperature deltas in the Arctic Ocean just north of the Kara Sea, over various regions of the far South Antarctic, and over Central and Western Australia. These regions ranged into an extreme +4 to +5.1 C positive anomaly for the month. Broader warm regions featuring +2 to +4 C above average temperatures surrounded these hot zones. Strong warm temperature departures in this range also held sway over the Eastern Equatorial Pacific El Nino hot spot, over a band from North Africa through the Middle East, over the Lake Baikal region of Russia, and over South Africa.

Equator-to-Pole heat transport — another feature we really don’t like seeing — also remained plainly visible in the October NASA anomalies graphic. Two slots of warm air transport into the northern polar zone show up clear as day in the above graphic — one maintaining over Western North America and another holding sway over Northeastern Asia.

Somewhat cool regions include the heat sink zone in the Southern Ocean, the tip of South America, Eastern Europe, and the ominous Greenland melt related cool pool in the North Atlantic (something we also really don’t want to see). Overall, most of the world showed above average readings with cooler regions increasingly isolated on the NASA map.

zonal anomalies NASA

(Zonal anomalies map shows a strong polar amplification despite El Nino. Image source: NASA GISS)

At last coming to the zonal anomalies graphic, we again observe a very strong polar amplification for the month of October. Here we note that the highest global temperature anomalies occur at both the South and North Poles. These extreme temperature spikes in the range of +3.3 to +3.5 C above average for the month are plainly visible in the upward tilting ‘devils horns’ (another unfortunate climate change indicator) at both the left and right border of the graph. As we move toward lower Latitudes, temperature departures rapidly fall off into the global cool and stormy zones between 50 and 60 North and South Latitudes. Anomalies then steadily climb to an El Nino-warmed Equatorial region (+1.2 to +1.4 C).

November of 2015 Also Likely to Test New Records

Looking toward November, early indications are that both the record or near-record global surface temperatures and the tendency for polar amplification continue. Land and ocean temperatures appear to have extended their October jump into new record ranges. El Nino, which under the regime of human-forced warming has often nudged global temperatures toward ever-hotter extremes, likely pushed sea surface temperatures to new all-time highs in the Equatorial Pacific for the month. Such a huge amount of heat bleeding off this broad ocean zone will likely to continue to spike global surface temperatures. Given such a context, it appears that we’ll be under the gun for new global surface temperature records for a period of at least the next 4 months. So what we saw during October was almost certainly just the start of the current global temperature spike.

Links:

NASA GISS Surface Temperature Analysis

NASA GISS

NASA Land Ocean Temperature Index

Polar Amplification

October of 2015 Shaping up to be Hottest Month Ever Recorded

 

Japan Meteorological Agency — September of 2015 was Hottest on Record — NASA not Far Behind

With a monster El Nino firing off in the Pacific and with atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations now in excess of 480 parts per millions CO2 equivalent, global temperatures for 2015 continue to shatter new all-time records. It’s a sad upshot of continued energy dominance by myopic fossil fuel special interests and the big money investors who have backed them now for the better part of 135 years.

As of September of 2015, temperatures in the global measure provided by Japan’s Meteorological Agency rocketed to 0.5 C above the 1981 to 2000 average or about 1.2 C above average temperatures last seen at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Global temperature anomalies September of 2015

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows that global temperatures sky-rocketed to a new record in September. Image source: JMA.)

This departure is a whopping 0.4 C above baseline rates of increase and a significant 0.15 C above the old record high for September set just last year (2014). Perhaps more notable is that all of the five hottest Septembers have occurred since 2009. A very strong global warming signal for the month and one that has left the 1997-1998 El Nino years in the dust.

NASA Shows September of 2015 was Second Hottest on Record

Though NOAA has yet to chime in with its monthly global temperature and climate analysis, NASA’s own GISS temperature monitor also shows September hitting near record heat. According to NASA, September of 2015 came in 0.81 C hotter than its own 20th Century benchmark average and about 1.01 C hotter than 1880s averages. This puts September of 2015 as a solid 2nd hottest in NASA’s record and just behind the new record set for September just last year.

NASA’s measure shows that four of the five hottest Septembers have all occurred since 2012 (ranking 2014 first hottest at +0.90 C, 2015 second hottest at +0.81 C, 2013 tied for third hottest with 2005 at +0.77 C, and 2012 as fourth hottest at +0.75 C). 2015’s +0.81 C departure is also well in excess of the +0.56 C departure seen in 1997 during the ramp up of what was then the strongest El Nino on record with averages for Septembers of 2014 and 2015 now at about +0.30 C above 1997 levels. A jump that falls neatly in the range of temperature increases predicted by IPCC and following the +0.15 to +0.20 C per decade accelerated rate of increase seen globally since around 1980.

Despite Strong El Nino, Northern Hemisphere Polar Amplification Really Heats up in September

NASA’s geographic distribution of temperature anomalies map tells a rather interesting tale for September. One that may have implications for Northern Hemisphere weather further down the line as Fall and Winter progress.

Land Ocean Temp Map September of 2015

(NASA’s global temperature anomalies map shows strong warming at both the Equator and the Northern Hemisphere Pole during September. A signature that hints strong south to north heat transfers are at play. Image source: NASA GISS.)

As expected with a strong El Nino, we see a lot of heat building up along the Equatorial zone and especially in the Eastern Pacific where land-ocean temperatures hit a strong range of +2 to +4 C above average. A bit odd, however, is a strong heat plume visibly rising off this hot zone, traversing the western land mass of North America and entering the Arctic through the gateway of the Canadian Archipelago (CAA). Notably, high Arctic temperature anomalies in the zone north of the CAA also spike to levels in the range of +2 to +4 C above average. It’s a kind of south to north heat transfer that we would expect to see less and less of as El Nino strengthens and the storm track flattens out. But ridging over the North American West along with associated heat continued to remain in force throughout September providing a pathway for heat to enter the upper Latitudes.

Other strong, though somewhat less robust, Equator to Pole heat transfers appear visible over Europe on up through Scandinavia, and ranging along a diagonal between India, China, Mongolia and Kamchatka. It’s a heat signature picture of a mangled Jet Stream completed by trough zones and cool pools over Alaska, in the ominous region of the North Atlantic between Greenland and England, in Central Asia, and just east of Japan. Most notably, the cool pool associated with a weakening Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and all-too-likely due to the decadally increasing rates of glacial melt outflows from Greenland remains a dominant feature in the North Atlantic. It’s a cool pool signature that was predicted in almost all the global climate models in association with overall human forced warming of the atmosphere and ocean. One that can drive weather instability in the North Atlantic. And one that has been a nearly constant features since at least 2012.

NASA zonal anomalies

(Zonal anomalies graphic also shows strong equatorial and polar warming. Image source. NASA.)

NASA’s zonal anomalies map paints a picture of both Equatorial and Northern Hemisphere Polar heat with temperatures well above average over most regions of the world. The primary exception is Antarctica and the Southern Ocean which, during recent years, has acted as an atmosphere-to-ocean heat sink. Notably, a very strong storm track in the region of 50 South Latitude has driven powerful winds which have forced atmospheric heat into the ocean depths while also forming an atmospheric barrier to heat conveyance over Antarctica.

High Latitude regions between 85 and 90 North showed the most extreme temperature departures with a +1.6 C positive anomaly for the region. Temperatures drop somewhat to between +1 and +1.3 C from 30 to 70 North before rising again to around +1.4 C near the Equator. Anomalies drop off southward ranging from near +0.7 C around 30 South before dropping into negative values in the atmosphere to ocean heat uptake zone in the Southern Ocean near 60 South.

Winter Weather for 2015 May Feature Some Unexpected Twists

Overall dispersal of heat shows a notably high degree of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification at a time when El Nino should be spiking heat at the Equator, increasing Jet Stream strength, and pushing the Northern Hemisphere Polar zone to cool somewhat. The fact that the Pole remained at higher positive temperature anomalies than the Equator during September even as El Nino cracked +2 C above average heat in the Nino 3.4 zone hints that this Winter may show more waviness in the Jet Stream than is typical during a strong El Nino year. As a result, weather patterns typical to El Nino during Northern Hemisphere Winter may show marked variance.

If this is the case, rainfall amounts for Southern and Central California may be less than expected for a typical strong El Nino year. Heavy rainfall events may shift northward toward Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. A northward angling storm track over Western North America would tend to reinforce trough development in the east while providing major storms for the US East Coast and Northeast as the higher amplitude Jet Stream wave taps more Arctic air than is typical. Meanwhile, warm waters off the US East Coast in the range of +2 to +5 C above average will provide both heat and moisture as fuel for storms moving down any trough feature. Extra heat and moisture provided by El Nino will also tend to preferentially increase storm intensity all along the storm track even as temperature differentials at the sea surface in the North Atlantic provide further instability for storms that are likely to hit high intensity along a track between Iceland and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, these features, combined with warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the newly ice-liberated Barents, could result in warmer and stormier conditions for Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

Globally, we are likely in for a record hot Northern Hemisphere winter for 2015. Combined with one of the strongest El Ninos on record, such a high temperature excession may well put us into a number of entirely new, and potentially very stormy, weather contexts. Comprehensive monitoring and updates to follow.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

NASA GISS

Monster El Nino + Climate Change Means Not Normal Winter is On the Way

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading?

Living in a World at 480 CO2e

NASA: Monster El Nino + Climate Change Means ‘Not Normal’ Winter is On the Way

“Over North America, this winter will definitely not be normal. However, the climatic events of the past decade make ‘normal’ difficult to define.”  — Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s JPL speaking in Earth Observatory today.

****

It’s official, as of this Monday’s weekly NOAA ENSO report, a still growing 2015 El Nino had taken yet one more step into monster event territory. Hitting a +1.5 C sea surface temperature anomaly in the benchmark Nino 3.4 zone over the period of July through September even as weekly values rocketed to an amazing +2.4 C above average, the 2015 El Nino heightened yet again — making a substantial jump in overall ocean heat content. But according to a recent report out of NASA’s Earth Observatory, it appears we’re just beginning to see the full potential of this thing.

As Big or Bigger in Ocean Heat Content Than 1997-1998

For the 2015 El Nino, an event that NASA scientists are now calling ‘too big to fail,’ appears bound to continue strengthening through late Fall and Early Winter. Growing into a climate and weather wrenching oceanic and atmospheric heavyweight that will significantly impact North American weather patterns during the Winter of 2015-2016. This extreme climate event — which is currently building to an extraordinary ocean heat content anomaly in the Central and Eastern Pacific — is now comparable to the top three strongest El Ninos on record. In other words, and according to NASA: “El Niño is strengthening and it looks a lot like the strong event that occurred in 1997–98.”

Sea surface height anomalies

(Sea surface height anomaly graphic provided by NASA shows a pattern very similar to 1997. Positive ocean surface height anomalies, indicated in red above, are the hallmark of an El Nino that is currently ranked among the top three strongest events observed for October. Image source: NASA.)

Ocean surface heights, as seen in the Earth Observatory graphic above, now show a pattern very similar to the monster 1997-1998 El Nino.

In a typical El Nino, Kelvin Waves transfer Equatorial Pacific Ocean heat from west to east which in turn sets off a rise in sea surface heights by thermally expanding the water column throughout the traditional Nino zones. And during the Fall of 2015 what we’re seeing is a big thermal and related ocean surface bulge swelling seas throughout the Eastern and Central Equatorial Pacific. To this point, Earth Observatory notes: “October sea level height anomalies show that 2015 is as big or bigger in heat content than 1997.”

Strong Westerly Wind Burst Lends More Energy to El Nino

Supporting NASA’s conclusions that El Nino intensity during 2015-2016 may hit near or beyond the top of the chart is a recent intensification of westerly winds over the Western Equatorial Pacific. Throughout 2014 and growing into 2015, these westerly wind bursts have fed El Nino by pushing warmer, Western Pacific waters eastward — thus increasing ocean heat content in the El Nino zone to near record levels.

Over the past week, another very strong westerly wind burst was again supplying El Nino with a warm water recharge. By tomorrow, the Global Forecast System model shows not one but four cyclones driving a strong westerly wind pattern from the Philippines all the way to the Date Line:

image

(Yet one more strong westerly wind burst is providing the already powerful 2015 El Nino with another boost. Note the extensive reverse trade wind pattern stretching all the way to the Date Line. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

It’s a pretty significant westerly wind pattern — near to par with some of the related weather events (MJO) earlier this year that were among the strongest in the meteorological record. These winds will rise to near gale-force gusts in some regions and provide a dominant fetch from west to east across a 1,500 mile section of Pacific Ocean. According to NASA:

“This [weakening of the trades] should strengthen this El Niño. All multi-model averages predict a peak in late fall/early winter. The forecaster consensus unanimously favors a strong El Niño…Overall, there is an approximately 95 percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015–16.”

Not Normal Winter Weather on the Way

A typical powerful El Nino of this kind would tend to drive a very intense train of moisture into the West Coast of the US, make for a cool and very wet winter across the southern US, and drive warmer temperatures and drier conditions across the northern tier. Climatologists, however, are uncertain how interactions between the current powerful El Nino and a globally changing weather pattern set off by a human-forced warming of the atmosphere to 1 C above 1880s levels (or about 1/4th the difference between the 20th Century and the last ice age, but on the side of hot) will interact.

Very warm sea surface temperatures, likely due to both a climate change-forced heating of ocean surface waters and a weakening of the Gulf Stream, off the Eastern Seaboard hint that storms along the US East Coast and particularly for the US Southeast may hit extreme intensity if an El Nino associated trough digs in. Meanwhile extraordinarily intense sea surface temperature anomalies in the range of +2 to near +6 C above average off the US West Coast associated with a ‘hot blob’ that has lingered in this region for many seasons has caused some to question whether California will see the high intensity rainfall events typical of powerful El Ninos during the latter half of the 20th Century.

image

(Extreme sea surface temperatures off the US West Coast can generate a kind of atmospheric inertia in which high pressure systems tend to develop — deflecting or weakening storms moving across the meridional Pacific northward toward Canada, Alaska and even the Polar region. Alternatively, an El Nino strong enough to over-ride this ocean and atmospheric block is likely to generate some very extreme storms — spurring events possibly exceeding those in the modern climate record. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

For the US West Coast, the region may be balancing on a razor’s edge. If El Nino is strong enough to overwhelm the atmospheric and ocean inertia generated by the hot blob, storms running into that region could be extremely intense. On the other hand, if the hot blob holds or deflects the moisture stream northward, California may not see a drought-busting delivery of rainfall (See Godzilla El Nino vs the Hot Blob).

To this point, we’ll leave Earth Observatory with the next to last word:

“[The] elements of our changing climate are too new to say with certainty what the winter will bring.”

A pretty significant statement when one begins to fully take in its meaning — that climate change may be starting to set weather forecasting out of the context of the latter 20th Century. That it’s NASA’s view that aspects of modern weather prediction for El Nino events may have already been set off kilter by ‘elements of our changing climate.’

New Global Temperature Records For 2015 Likely a Lock

But what we do know is that the ocean-to-atmosphere heat back-up generated by what could be a record El Nino, when combined with the enormous added heat forcing provided by human fossil fuel emissions, will almost certainly set new global high temperature records for 2015 and possibly for 2016. This, unfortunately, means that we’ve already started on a dangerous path toward the far more disruptive +1.5 and +2 C above 1880s benchmarks. A range that many scientists associate with a greatly increased risk of hitting climate tipping points.

Links:

Earth Observatory: El Nino Strengthening

Monster El Nino Emerging From the Depths

NOAA’s Weekly El Nino Report

Earth Nullschool

Godzilla El Nino vs the Hot Blob

Dr. Lenton’s (somewhat conservative) Exploration of Climate Tipping Points

Climate Change’s Hot Blob Still Blankets Northeastern Pacific

Halfway to 2 C

Nasty Signs North Atlantic Overturning Circulation is Weakening

NASA: World Just Saw its Hottest June, July and August on Record

The world is now well on its way to seeing back-to-back hottest years on record. Unprecedented and amoral burning of fossil fuels is now forcing the global temperature average to rise into the range of 1 degree Celsius above 1880s averages — or halfway to a catastrophic 2 C warming. A level at which scientists believe many climate change tipping points will be irrevocably crossed.

June, July, August Were Hottest On Record

According to NASA GISS, global temperatures for the June, July and August period of 2015 were 0.78 degrees Celsius (C) above the 20th Century benchmark or about 0.98 C above 1880s averages — when global record keeping began. The previous hottest three month period occurred during 1998 at +0.72 C. Notably, June, July and August were the hottest three months for 1998. But for 2015, December, January and February came in at +0.83 C and March, April and May came in at +0.81 C. These extreme temperature departures, when combined with the June, July and August readings, now put 2015 at +0.80 C above average for its first 9 months — or well above any previous record-breaking year. A significant single year margin above the previous hottest year — 2014 — of +0.05 C (a single year rate of warming about 150 times the average rate of warming at the end of the last ice age).

August Temperature departures

(NASA GISS spatial anomalies map for August of 2015. Image Source: NASA)

August of 2015 Comes in As Second Hottest Amidst Global Warming And El Nino Signature Temperature Anomalies

August itself came in at +0.81 C above NASA’s 20th Century benchmark average. This departure marked the second hottest August reading in the 135 year temperature record, falling just 0.01 C behind the previous hottest August reading hit just last year (2014).

Geographic distribution of temperature anomalies continue to show the signatures of both a strong El Nino and a growing climate change related signal. The August El Nino signature was particularly strong in the Eastern and Central Equatorial Pacific with 1-4 degree Celsius hotter than normal temperature departures dominating the region. This heat extended throughout the anomalous ‘Hot Blob’ or ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ zone that has continued to be dominated by extreme sea surface temperature departures with 1-4 degree Celsius above normal temperatures pervading. Such extreme heat was linked to equally extreme drought and wildfire conditions dominating broad sections of the North American west throughout the month. Conditions that, for many areas, have been endemic for many months running.

Anomalous heat also dominated the land masses of South America, Europe, South Africa, and the Lake Baikal region of Russia. These areas experienced some or all of the following: extreme drought, wildfires, water resource stresses, extreme heat-related weather, and heatwaves. A cool pool in the Northern Atlantic between England and Newfoundland remained a prominent feature. This cool region is associated with climate change related conditions that are now in the process of weakening both the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic bottom water formation. It’s a set of conditions that weakens equator to mid-latitude heat transport and intensifies the North Atlantic storm track. An upshot of human-forced warming that has been predicted for decades by even the most rudimentary of global climate models but that now appears to be cropping up a bit earlier than previously expected (see World Ocean Heartbeat Fading?). Persistent troughs over Eastern North America and Western Russia also generated their own cool pools. Meanwhile, surface temperatures over Central Antarctica dipped into cooler values — likely associated with intensification of storm systems in the Southern Ocean.

Zonal Anomalies

(NASA zonal temperature anomalies show a signature consisted with strong El Nino and related equatorial warming. Image source: NASA GISS.)

NASA’s zonal anomalies map also displayed a strong El Nino signature with the global equatorial zone showing the highest above average temperature departures (in the range of +1.3 degrees Celsius). This extreme heat maintained throughout the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes all the way to 60 North before falling off to between +0.2 to +0.4 C near the pole. Progressing southward, anomalies steadily declined, even dipping into a range of 0 to -0.9 C anomalies in the region of 75 to 90 South.

Conditions in Context — Record High Temperatures and Related Extreme Weather in the Pipe

Consistent high temperature departures near the Equator, as we see now, tend to aid both in storm track intensification and a general flattening of the Jet Stream. Though these conditions have not yet dominated in the Northeastern Pacific, a continuation of the August temperature departure pattern and related strong El Nino will likely both intensify the Northeastern Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks as Fall progresses. Such a shift, however, would have to be very extreme to bust the 3 year running California Drought.

Overall temperature departures for both August and for the June, July, August period are well outside the range of anything that could be considered normal and are swiftly rising to more and more unsafe and climate destabilizing levels. The emergence of the North Atlantic cool pool is a feature specifically related to storm intensification and regional and global weather destabilization. A feature predicted by global climate models due to human forced warming, related melting of Greenland ice, and the upshot slowing down of critical ocean currents. The recent unprecedented Hot Blob in the Northeastern Pacific was likewise predicted in the scientific research as a result of human forced warming — a feature that, it was warned, could result in much warmer and drier conditions for the North American West Coast. Climate change related heat signatures such as these clearly show in the NASA monitor even as the global measure keeps rising to new and more dangerous extremes.

Links:

NASA GISS Global Temperature Analysis

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

(Please support public, non special interest based, science like the fantastic work done by NASA’s GISS division and without which this report and related analysis would not have been possible.)

 

 

 

2015’s Cruel Climate Count Continues as NASA Shows July Was Hottest On Record

Andrew Freeman is right. It’s been a cruel, cruel summer. Hothouse mass casualty events, spurred by a ridiculous accumulation of heat trapping gasses in the Earth atmosphere, have spanned the Northern Hemisphere. The result has been thousands of lives lost and the hospitalization of tens of thousands more as global temperatures rocketed to levels not seen in probably 100,000 years (related — Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Egypt).

July of 2015 Hottest on Record

Now, in a record-shattering hot year featuring extreme weather weirdness and an emerging monster El Nino, yet one more record has fallen. For according to both NASA and Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA), July of 2015 squashed and smashed previous record hot Julys 2011 (NASA) and 1998 (JMA) to take the title as hottest July yet.

July Temperatures Japan Meteorological Agency

(Japan’s Meteorological Agency shows July of 2015 was the hottest on record by a wide margin.)

In the JMA graph, beginning in 1890, you can plainly see the new July record is well above the +0.67 C per Century warming trend line of the last 125 years. A new high that leaves the 1998 super El Nino year in the dust.

For JMA, that’s 0.72 C above the 20th Century average and about 1 C above 1890.  For NASA, global temperatures also hit a similarly hot range. July of 2015 was 0.75 C above their 20th Century base line — putting it at about 0.95 C hotter than 1880s values when annual record keeping began. Now we only wait on NOAA’s report coming out in a few days for a final confirmation of this obscene July heat.

2015 On Track For Hottest Year By a Wide Margin

Focusing in on the NASA measure, we find that January through July temperatures are setting a course for a record shattering 2015. Overall, global temperatures during that seven month period were 0.8 C above NASA’s 20th Century benchmark and about 1 C above 1880s values. A level of heat that, if it were simply maintained, would beat out previous record hot year, 2014, by a substantial margin (0.07 C).

To the layman, these may seem like small numbers except when one considers that just 3.5 C of cooling from Holocene climates means the start of a new ice age. In just 135 years we’ve hit 30 percent of the difference between the Holocene and an ice age — but on the side of hot. Moreover, an annual temperature climb of 0.07 C equals 7 degrees Celsius warming if maintained for one Century. So a one year jump in that range is a pretty wide margin, especially when we consider that we’re now experiencing back-to-back hottest years on record.

El Nino + Climate Change In the NASA Graphic

NASA Temp Map July 2015

(NASA’s July distribution of hot and cold temperature anomalies shows a world that’s tipping more and more toward climate extremes. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Geospatially, the representation of hot and cold temperature extremes in the NASA map hints at an absolute mess for July weather patterns. While abnormal and extreme warmth dominated the East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort airs, a plug of below average temperatures hovered over the Laptev. Two substantial chimneys of heat extended into the Arctic — one exploding up from the Hot Blob in the Pacific and another stretching diagonally over the Lake Baikal region of Russia (Related: The Dry Land Burned Like Grass). Most of Western Europe baked while the Yamal region cooled. In the North Atlantic the Climate Change signature and storm generating cool pool maintained — gearing up to throw a few wicked cyclones at the British Isles in the midst of, what should be placid, summer.

And all across the equatorial region anomalous heat built — pushing monthly temperatures from 1-4 degrees Celsius above average in some of the typically hottest regions of the world. In this analysis we must pause for a moment to point out the awesome and terrible wave of heat building up from the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, telegraphing through the Hot Blobs off the North American West Coast and extending on up through the Bering Sea. A teleconnection feature that must fall if California is to have any hope of receiving a drought busting set of storms this Winter — monster El Nino or no.

The mid-to-equatorial latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere were also abnormally warm with few regions showing any departure into cooler than ‘normal’ in this zone. Meanwhile, the Southern Polar Region was a mess of hot ridges and cold troughs indicative of a very wavy Jet Stream pattern for the zone. In particular, a ridge blazing south through the Weddell Sea set off some much warmer than normal readings for Coats Land and the Ronne Ice Shelf.

El Nino Zonal Signature

(Zonal temperature anomalies for July show a clear signature of El Nino and a climate change related heat sink in the Southern Ocean. Image source: NASA GISS.)

In the NASA zonal map, we can clearly see the signature of El Nino. Equatorial temperatures are the hottest in the measure pushing to +1.3 degrees Celsius above average over the world’s belt-line. To the north, heat gradually tapered off — still maintaining near +1 C through the 40 degree line before dipping down to around +0.8 to +0.3 C in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and then rising again to around +0.7 C at the pole.

To the south, anomalies rapidly plunged throughout most zones — dipping to +0.35 C in the range of the furious fifties (50 degrees South Latitude). In the oceanic heat sink region where fresh and icy water met the warmer, saltier waters of the Southern Ocean, heat uptake by that ocean-atmosphere interface hit an extreme level as negative zonal anomalies spiked to -1.4 C in the range of 65 South Latitude. This ocean heat uptake and related atmospheric cooling is associated with a global warming related fresh water outflow due to Antarctic glacial melt — the Southern Hemisphere version of the North Atlantic cool pool.  Zonal temperatures swing again higher, hitting +0.6 C at the land glacier edge in the region between 70 and 80 South, before dipping to around -0.7 C in the Antarctic interior near 90 South.

Conditions in Context

During the record hot July of 2015 temperature and weather hit new extremes. Variation between hot and cold temperatures became greater over many regions of the globe as hot and cool pools grew in prominence and related weather influence. Glacial melt and ocean current change related cool pools dominated the North Atlantic and a band near 70 South in the Southern Ocean. Meanwhile, extreme equatorial heat associated with El Nino developed teleconnections with high amplitude ridges — especially with the Hot Blob related Ridiculously Resilient Ridge over the Northeastern Pacific.

In addition, a synergy developed between high ocean temperatures, related high humidity, and a number of dangerous heatwaves. Near record and record hot waters in the regions of India, Pakistan, and Japan synergistically enabled deadly, mass-casualty producing heatwaves in those regions. This is due to the fact that hot waters enable higher wet bulb temperatures over land — pushing wet bulbs, at times, close to the human survival limit of 35 C.

With Global temperatures now at 1 C above 1880s levels we begin to witness hints of what a human-forced hothouse may look like. But what we see now are only the early, easy outliers.

Links:

Japan’s Meteorological Agency

NASA GISS

2015’s Cruel Summer

Hothouse Mass Casualties Strike Egypt

India Sees Worst Flood in 200 Years

El Nino Crosses Monstrous Threshold

(Please support public, non special interest based science, like the fantastic research produced by NASA and JMA without which this report would not have been possible.)

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.)

Pause? What a Joke. The Reality is Global Temperatures are Skyrocketing.

News out from NASA today — the first five months of 2015 are the hottest ever recorded in the global climate record. Global temperatures hotter than any comparable period by a very significant margin.

According to NASA’s GISS division, May of 2015 came in at 0.71 C hotter than the 20th Century average. That ties 2012 for the second hottest May since record keeping began in 1880. But, more importantly, when averaged — January (+0.75 C), February (+0.82 C), March (+0.84 C), April (+0.71 C) and now May — the first five months of 2015 come in at 0.766 C above 20th Century baselines. That’s about 0.96 C above 1880s values — a level fast approaching the 1 C threshold and the far more dangerous climate impacts that come after.

GISS Temp

(NASA GISS Graph with modification [star] provided to emphasize global warming extremes for first five months of 2015. See also here.)

If 2015 were to remain at such hot levels, the final measure would appear as the star on the above chart. And with the first half of June already seeing +0.7 to +0.85 C warmer than 20th Century conditions amidst a growing El Nino in the Equatorial Pacific, it appears highly possible, even likely, that current atmospheric warming levels could be maintained or even exceeded through end of year.

NOAA Shows Warming Kept Pace or Accelerated — Climate Change Deniers Proven Wrong for the 1 Millionth Time

For reference, +0.76 C is fully 0.15 C hotter than the Super El Nino year of 1998 — the cherry of all cherries for global warming deniers. A fossil fueled group that has used this particular atmospheric and ocean cherry as a basis for arguing that greenhouse gas forced global warming ‘paused’ after the 1998 El Nino. A claim that has also been used as a platform to advance a raft of other nonsense including the false notion that climate sensitivity is far less than consensus ranges of 3 C ECS and 6 C ESS (basically meaning that each doubling of atmospheric CO2 brings 3 C warming short term and 6 C warming over many centuries). A claim that was recently also destroyed in a fantastic paper released earlier this month by NOAA.

From the press release to the June 4 NOAA paper:

A new study published online today in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or “hiatus” in the rate of global warming in recent years.

There were numerous related and predictable meltdowns from climate change denial media and political personalities not worth specific notice at this time (AW and BT, I have something for you later this year, but not now.). But the NOAA data is pretty amazingly clear as seen in the chart below which notably does not include the new 2015 records:

no slow down in global warming

(NOAA study finds pace of global warming has kept steady or even accelerated over the past 35 years.)

Ocean Heat Accumulation Accelerating

Of course, any rational observer paying attention to heat accumulation in the top 2000 meters of the world ocean or the ever more rapidly destabilizing glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica already knew that talk of hiatus was probably most likely at best a sick joke. The ocean ends up taking in a far greater portion of the greenhouse gas heat forcing than the atmosphere ever could. As a result, more than 93.4 percent of the heat accumulated by human fossil fuel emissions ends up in the ocean. That’s an enormous amount of heat destined to come back and impact both glaciers and atmosphere even if rates of warming in either of those smaller systems had paused (which NOAA indicates they haven’t).

Ocean heat content

(Global Ocean heat content since 1958 as provided by NOAA NODC showing an extraordinary heat accumulation and a disturbing upward curve at the end of the graph.)

Instead, we see a clearly accelerating rate of ocean warming. A slope that makes one of those sick upward curves we’ve become so used to when dealing with a human-spurred greenhouse gas accumulation at least 6 times faster than at any time in all of Earth’s deep history.

It thus now appears that the atmosphere is in the process of catching up to the ocean. And the strong heat bleed off a ramping El Nino in the Pacific now combines with human greenhouse gasses in the range of 400 ppm CO2 and 480 ppm CO2e to enable this ominous heat increase.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA: No Slowdown in Global Warming

The Latest Global Temperature Data are Breaking Records

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

California’s Great Wilting — Lake Mead Heading Toward Rationing Line, Extreme Fire Hazard as 12.5 Million Trees Stand Dead, Agriculture Under Threat

(Video provided by NASA Goddard)

According to the California Government, State snowpack levels are now at 1 percent of average. That’s not just the lowest ever recorded. That’s about as close to zero as one can get without actually hitting zero.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen. We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.” — Stephen Chu in a public press release six years ago.

*    *    *    *    *

Southwest megadrought. For more than 20 years now, climate models have been indicating rising risk of severe, multi-decade drought for this region of the US as a result of human-caused global warming. For years, we’ve watched the warnings mount. And for years we’ve watched as climates for that region grew drier and drier.

Warming seeped into the region, driving snow packs higher, or off the mountains entirely. Critical stores through dry summer months, these zones of mountain snow and ice serve as aquifers for human beings, shrubs and trees, and local animals alike. Their dwindling alone left the region more vulnerable to drought conditions.

But further-reaching changes — warming in the nearby ocean, and a recession of sea ice in the Arctic — also tilted the odds toward drought. Heating in the near shore waters of the Northeastern Pacific served as a kind of barrier to storm systems running across the wide ocean. Loss of sea ice in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas provided a heat stress to that Arctic region. The net result was conditions that preferentially enabled the development of dry high pressure systems along the North American West Coast. A condition many have come to call — the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.

As the climate continues to warm, these conditions — local, regional, and global — enforce a kind of tilting toward drier and drier conditions. Conditions that models show may result in worse droughts than even the one we are seeing now. Droughts that last, not for four years, but for ten years, twenty years, thirty years or more. It’s a problem we’re just starting to deal with now. But if you think this is bad, warm the world by another 0.5 C, or 1 C, or 2 C and you probably really don’t want to see what’s in store.

For according to a February article in National Geographic and based on studies published by NASA, Columbia University and Cornell:

The chances of a 35-year or longer “megadrought” striking the Southwest and central Great Plains by 2100 are above 80 percent if the world stays on its current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions.

California Hitting Water Limits

But the current drought, though not yet a ‘megadrought,’ is more than bad enough. Aptly called epic, the powerful and ongoing lock on California moisture has wrung out aquifers, pushed snowpacks to below 1 percent of usual levels for springtime, greatly depleted ground water supplies, and forced an additional 25 percent water rationing across the state.

Stresses to water supplies — not only for California, but for many other states as well — are mounting. Key Aquifers, like Lake Mead in Northern Arizona, are hitting levels where downstream rationing may be required. A shock that would send impacts rippling on through the entire US Southwestern water supply.

California Drought April 20 2014

(Nearly 50 percent of California is now under the most severe drought conditions we have a measure for. A total of more than 37 million people in California alone are impacted by drought at this time. Image source: US Drought Monitor.)

Expert climate spotter Andy in San Diego has been providing situation discussion in this forum on the drought there for weeks. Of particular concern are water levels at Lake Mead — which are fast approaching the line where water rationing to various locations across the Southwest goes into effect as a requirement by law.

Yesterday, Andy noted in discussion here that:

Lake Mead is at 1078.79. [Approximately] 4 ft from the start of cutoffs. It appears Arizona gets [rationed] first at 1075 in some documentation, Nevada in others. Outflows from Mead were … shut off Saturday & Sunday. Starting Saturday, outflows from Lake Powell were cranked up by about 1000 [cubic feet per second]. … At this point, inflows to Powell are being sent downstream to Mead immediately. I see a bit of gambling here hoping for decent inflows to Powell in Late May through early July. Unfortunately, snow pack above Powell is pretty much non existent. Powell is at ~44% full pool. Mead is at ~38%. This will be an interesting summer, it appears that all of the Hail Mary’s have been used for 2015 already. (some edits for clarity)

Since Andy’s update yesterday, Lake Mead levels had fallen further to 1078.55 feet — just 3.5 feet above levels where rationing requirements begin.

12.5 Million Dead Trees Could Fuel Epic Fire Season

As key US aquifers hover over mandatory rationing levels, impacts to wildlife across California are growing more and more extreme. Anyone having watched Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s amazing Cosmos series may have noted dessicated, browned grasses and fields in the background of some shots. The reason for this is that many of Tyson’s narrations were filmed on location in California. And, at the time — in 2014 — California’s epic drought was really starting to bite deep.

How deep had not yet become apparent. But new reports out yesterday began to shed light on what is an amazingly stark situation.

According features in the Washington Post and elsewhere, more than 12.5 million trees perished in California alone last year due to extreme drought conditions. Encompassing more than 1 million acres, it’s a swath of forest the size of Rhode Island — now filled with withered trees. Key plants necessary for a variety of life and land supports including moistening the air, anchoring the soil, and providing homes for communities of creatures.

tree-drought-death

(USDA photo shows swaths of dead trees in California pine forest. Image source USDA via CBS Local.)

Research indicated that not only did the heat and drought stress the trees. But the warm conditions favored the invasion of tree-devouring beetles. Wood-devouring insects that thrive in the hot, dry conditions put in place by the ongoing drought.

The dead trees are bad enough. But put them smack dab in the worst drought on record for California and they are an extreme fire hazard.

Since late 2013, fire season has never really ended for California. It’s flared and dwindled, but wildfire burning has continued regardless of season due to both extreme heat and drying. Summer months are the worst times, though, and this year’s very extreme conditions has California fire planners very worried.

At issue are all the millions and millions of dead trees. Sitting in the sun, dried and wrung of all moisture, they’re essentially large stacks of kindling. Fuels that could rapidly ignite given even the smallest spark.

A recent program on NPR highlights the hazard:

Cambria, Calif. is under an emergency fire declaration. There’s no actual fire, no smoke, but here’s the situation broken down by Cambria Fire Chief Mark Miller. If a fire started today under the circumstances that exist……In the first 20 minutes, it would be six acres, and there would be two houses involved.

US Agriculture Under Threat

But not only is California now a fire-vulnerable land of browned, snowless mountains, rapidly dwindling water supplies, and dessicated, dying, beetle devoured plant life. It is a place that hosts the heart of US produce production. A vital source of food for the US and for the world that is now under threat.

Central Valley California, according to a new report in Think Progress, is the production hub for more than 90 percent of the United States’ fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a condition that arose from a combination of slick marketing, a host of unique micro-climates suited to practically every form of vegetable, and a domination of (mostly corn and soy) mono-cropping throughout the productive regions of the Central US. Essentially, mono-cropping in the plains drove the majority of produce farmers to the West Coast.

And, as result, most of the fresh vegetables Americans enjoy are all grown from one basket. A basket that is now baking under a merciless California sun. Everything from lettuce to avocados to tomatoes to almonds to oranges, and so many more, are now at risk.

California Aquaduct

(The majority of California agriculture is irrigation-based — supplied by aqueducts like the one shown above. Aqueducts like this one also add flood risk due to enhanced potential of extreme rainfall events due atmospheric heating combined with land subsidence due to ground water depletion. Image source: Public Herald.)

Fully 80 percent of California’s water supply goes to food growers. It’s a stream of vital water that proceeds from California aquifers to farmers and then directly to your dinner table. A stream that Governor Jerry Brown has refused to cut at any cost. But despite increasingly draconian water rationing to other sectors, farms are still feeling a hit. In 2014, nearly 500,000 acres of cropland lay fallow. A number that could more than double by the end of this year. With so much of California’s water evaporating, with so many wells running dry, even water protected for farm use takes a hit.

In this way, ongoing drought in California is a direct threat to US food security. A fact that hasn’t been missed by food experts like John Ikerd who recommend a widespread re-localization of produce production to add resiliency to the US food supply in the face of growing climate challenges.

But the fact that we may need such a reorganization, together with the fact that the current California drought is an early, easier outlier of what is to come, highlights our vulnerability. Warming of the Earth System is already shocking the US and global food system to such a degree that it is calling into question the future of US produce production.

Strong El Nino is No Cure

Among many, hopes are that a strong El Nino may deliver a drought-breaking flood of moisture by the end of this year. And while there is growing indication that a monster El Nino may be developing in the Pacific, such an event would be no cure for poor climate-changed California. In fact, such an event could produce floods that further impact agriculture — stripping denuded landscapes and flushing vital soil nutrients down streams and into a eutrophying ocean.

The ground there is baked, subsided. The pores in the earth closed up, creating a tablet effect for water ponding. The fires have stripped trees and brush from hillsides, resulting in landslide hazard.

And the kind of rainfall a 2.5 to 3 C anomaly event (that some models are indicating) could generate would be extraordinary (especially when we add in the extra atmospheric moisture loading from overall human heating of 0.9 to 1 C above 1880).

For California, it looks like the option for ending epic drought is epic flood. And, with human caused warming, more drought will almost certainly follow any flood.

Links:

Megadroughts Projected For the American West

Lake Mead Water Data

California Department of Water Resources

Megadrought Predicted for the American Southwest

Steaming Equatorial Pacific Sees Winds Blow Toward Monster El Nino

Cosmos

California Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System

California Races to Protect its Forests

US Drought Monitor

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat Tip to Spike

The Human-Warmed Southern Ocean Threatens Major Melt For East Antarctica

Totten Glacier. A mountainous expanse of ice in the very heart of the greatest accumulation of frozen water on Earth. A bastion of cold containing 11.5 feet worth of sea level rise if it were to melt in total. An accumulation roughly equal to half of all the frozen water in the whole of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

According to a new scientific report out this week, Totten Glacier is under threat of melt. Warm water is swelling up through troughs in the Continental Shelf zone, approaching the ice shelf locking Totten and a vast swath of interior East Antarctic glaciers. As with West Antarctica, this warm water upwelling has the potential to rapidly destabilize an already fast-moving glacier.

Totten Glacier basin

(Totten glacier outflow zone covers a massive region of East Antarctica. An area about equivalent in size to the entire US Southeast region. Warm water is starting to encroach upon an ice shelf locking this great ice mass into its Continental Catchment Basin. Image source: Australian Antarctic Division.)

Totten already hosts one of the most rapid thinning rates in East Antarctica. And, in fact, it was a satellite detection of this very thinning that set off a recent scientific investigation of the glacier’s stability. What the new scientific report identified was a threat that enhanced warm water upwelling from a human-heated circumpolar current would collide with an ice structure that is already vulnerable to melt.

The net result would mean a destabilization and acceleration of one of the greatest ice masses on the planet. Such an event would have far-reaching implications, especially relating to the pace and end state of warming-related global sea level rise.

From the abstract of Ocean Access to A Cavity Beneath Totten Glacier:

Totten Glacier… has the largest thinning rate in East Antarctica. Thinning may be driven by enhanced basal meltingWarm modified Circumpolar Deep Water, which has been linked to glacier retreat in West Antarctica, has been observed in summer and winter on the nearby continental shelf beneath 400 to 500 m of cool Antarctic Surface Water…We identify entrances to the ice-shelf cavity below depths of 400 to 500 m that could allow intrusions of warm water if the vertical structure of inflow is similar to nearby observations. Radar sounding reveals a previously unknown inland trough that connects the main ice-shelf cavity to the ocean. If thinning trends continue, a larger water body over the trough could potentially allow more warm water into the cavity, which may, eventually, lead to destabilization of the low-lying region between Totten Glacier and the similarly deep glacier flowing into the Reynolds Trough. (emphasis added)

At issue are two pathways for this upwelling, warm, deep water to follow:

totten_glacier_labeledpaths

(Topographic map of the Totten Glacier outlet region and nearby seabed. Note the vulnerable water inlets [orange lines], the inland troughs and basins [red highlights and blue topographic signature] and the rather advanced inland extent of the grounding line [white line]. Image source: Ocean Access to a Cavity Beneath Totten Glacier.)

The pathways are identified by the orange lines in the topographic image above. The lines identify underwater valleys that run out to the deeper, warmer waters accumulating on the edge of the Antarctic Continental Shelf region. As the waters rise, scientists are concerned that these troughs will act like channels, funneling a flood of much warmer than normal water beneath the belly of the great glacier.

The result is an instance of ‘global consequence.’ The authors note:

We estimate that at least 3.5 m of eustatic sea level potential drains through Totten Glacier, so coastal processes in this area could have global consequences.

Indeed. If we add in all the other destabilized glaciers around the world to Totten, should it destabilize, you end up with about 26 feet of sea level rise locked in. And that has some pretty staggering consequences when you look at impacts to the world’s coastlines.

This is what 20 feet of sea level rise impact looks like for the US Southeast and Gulf Coasts:

NASA six meter sea level rise SE

(Six meters of sea level rise would permanently inundate many of the major cities along the US Gulf and Southeastern coasts. Areas inundated shown in red. Image source: NASA.)

But, perhaps worst of all, is the fact that some of the world’s longest lasting and most stable accumulations of frozen water are now under threat of melt.

In essence, what we are witnessing is possible initiation of the end of the greatest and oldest ice province on Earth. East Antarctica glaciated 35 million years ago, when atmospheric CO2 levels fell below a range of 500-600 parts per million, and has been mostly stable or growing ever since. Now that region of ice, the most ancient remaining in the memory of Earth, is under threat. With human greenhouse gasses in the range of 484 ppm CO2e (CO2 equivalent) and 400 ppm CO2 and rising, it appears that even the oldest glaciers are under existential threat.

To this point, Eric Rignot noted in a recent interview:

“..the stage is set. You have a submarine glacier and a deep trough. The warm water is not too far from that frontal region and we’ve seen some changes in the glaciers that suggest that something is happening at their base.”

Links:

Ocean Access to A Cavity Beneath Totten Glacier

Hidden Channels Beneath East Antarctica Could Cause Massive Melt

Australian Antarctic Division

NASA

A Glacier Area the Size of the Entire South is Melting Away

Arctic Sea Ice Flirts With New Record Lows Dragging Global Coverage Inexorably Down

It’s another winter of far above average temperatures for the Arctic.

Warm air has risen — south to north — over both the North Atlantic and Pacific. It has ridden through the Bering and Barents seas. And it has invaded an Arctic sea ice pack that is far, far more fragile than it has ever been in modern human reckoning.

image

(A parade of warm fronts predicted to run up through the North Atlantic and Barents between Greenland and Northern Europe and on up into the Arctic Ocean on Thursday, March 5. The warm fronts are indicated by regions of perpendicular wind flow across the meridional pattern running northward from the Eastern Seaboard of North America and on into the Arctic. It is a pattern we’ve seen frequently throughout the winter of 2014-2015. One that has resulted both in Arctic warming and extreme polar vortex excursions. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data Source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

The winds have been fed by the warmest ocean surface temperatures ever seen in the aftermath of the hottest year on record (2014). They have pushed against ice packs off Irkutsk in Russia. They have driven ice northward and melted it throughout the Bering. And they have pushed 10-20 foot waves against the ice along the coasts of Greenland, in the Strait near Svalbard, and in the Barents west of Novaya Zemlya.

Near Record Low Arctic Sea Ice

This warm air influx has had a strong effect on the sea ice. Even in the far north near the pole, sea ice has been occasionally observed to thin this winter, reaching 80-90 percent concentration in a broad patch just south of the pole. Marked thinning for an area from which thicker, multi-year ice has undergone an extended retreat and 2 meter thick ice is now the mainstay. A mere shadow of ice for a region that once featured great hills and mounds of stable ice bounded by bridges between the North American and Asian Continents.

Now, over the greatly thinned and reduced ice, periods when temperatures have neared or even exceeded the point at which sea ice melts (28 F) have become more and more common in a broad wedge covering the Arctic Ocean between Novaya and the pole itself. When combined with the warm waters continuing to invade the Arctic Ocean from the flanks and from below, it’s enough to have again pushed sea ice to near record low extents for this time of year:

chart

(Arctic sea ice extent for March 1 of 2015 shown by the purple line sandwiched between the orange line [2011] and the pink line [2006]. Yesterday’s sea ice extent was second lowest in the record with 2006 being the lowest and 2011 running in as third lowest for the date. 2012 [dotted green], 2007 [light blue] and 1979 [dark blue] were added for reference. Image source: NSIDC.)

At the current measure of 14,450,000 square kilometers, that’s well less than what we’ve seen during previous decades. More than 2,000,000 square kilometers, or about an area the size of Greenland, less than 1979’s extent for March 1, for example.

And the total could well go lower — testing new record ranges for early March. For the Arctic is about to see another major influx of warm air.

Starting tomorrow and through Saturday, warm southerly winds will ride up into both the Bering and through the Barents side of the Arctic Ocean east of Novaya Zemlya. The warm air influx will be strongest through the Barents region, pushing temperatures as warm as 30 F to withing 200 miles of the North Pole:

image image

(Forecast for Wednesday finds 30 F temperatures riding up through the Barents and deep into the Arctic Ocean to within 200 miles of the North Pole. Note that similar temperatures appear in Ohio on the same day in the second frame. Image source: Earth Nullschool. Data source: Global Forecast Systems Model.)

For comparison Ohio, many hundreds of miles to the south and well outside the Arctic, will see the same reading at the same time. It’s another major warm air influx that will again drive against the ice pack. A continuation of a decades long assault that will bring with it further threat of record lows in Arctic sea ice. One that could set the 2015 melt season up for a rather low launching pad if the major gains seen during this time of year in 2012, 2013, and 2014 don’t manage to materialize.

NASA Study Finds 35,000 Square Kilometers of Sea Ice Lost Each Year Globally

As Arctic sea ice faces the potential for new all-time lows, a recently released NASA study puts these losses in a global context.

This important broader assessment shows that both Arctic sea ice loss and global sea ice loss since 1979 has followed an unequivocal trend of thinning and recession. This ongoing loss is despite the fact that Antarctica has seen some minor gains in sea ice extent during that same period.

Claire Parkinson, author of the study, noted:

“Even though Antarctic sea ice reached a new record maximum this past September, global sea ice is still decreasing. That’s because the decreases in Arctic sea ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.”

A graphic illustration of sea ice trends shows how rates of global and Arctic decline compare when adding in the slight and far more gradual sea ice gains occurring near Antarctica:

polar_trend_graphs_1979-2013

(NASA Polar Trend Graph shows Arctic, Antarctic, and combined global sea ice trends. Note the slight gain for Antarctica as compared to a precipitous fall for the Arctic even as the global trend shows a marked downswing. Image source: NASA.)

Massive losses in the Arctic are likely due to the fact that the sea ice there sits upon a warming ocean surrounded by warming continents. By contrast, Antarctic sea ice sits in the Southern Ocean whose surface waters are often cooled both by winds and by an increasing outflow of cold, fresh water from the melting Antarctic glaciers. Factors that serve as a minor surface counter-trend to the larger warming signal. A signal, that for Antarctica, is driving an assault of warm water at the ice sheets from the depth of hundreds of feet below the ocean surface.

Overall, the Arctic has lost of an average of 2 million square kilometers since 1979. Antarctic gains of about 700,000 square kilometers are enough to result in a global loss of around 1.3 million square kilometers over the period. That’s equal to about 35,000 square kilometers lost each year or an area the size of the State of Maryland.

Finally, it’s important to note that recent studies have shown (as hinted at above) that sea ice gain around Antarctica is being driven by cold water and ice berg outflows ramping up as the great glaciers of Antarctica increase their melt rates. The melt, which is driven by a pool of warm water expanding hundreds of feet beneath the ocean surface and at the base of ice sheets and ice shelves is creating a kind of heat conveyor which spreads cool water along the surface even as it pulls more warm water in from underneath.

So it appears even the slight ice gain for Antarctica has a connection to human caused warming. One that is even more ominously linked to an exponentially ramping rate of land ice loss from Antarctica itself.

Links:

NSIDC

NASA: Global Sea Ice Diminishing, Despite Antarctic Gains

Earth Nullschool

Global Forecast Systems Model

Expanding Arctic Sea Ice is Flooding Warning Bell

Cryosat Shows Rate of Antarctic Land Ice Loss Doubled During Last Decade

Hat Tips:

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Anna

Dnem

Something Rotten With The Climate — January 2015 Comes in As Second Hottest

Hot off the heels of a new global temperature record in 2014, January of 2015 hasn’t missed a beat. Global warmth still rages, as bestirred as a Shakespearean prince outraged at loss and betrayal of a once-constant and steady father.

The month, as many, many months preceding, continued to display a reckless accumulation of heat.

*   *   *   *

According to NASA GISS, January was 0.75 C above the global 20th Century average, or about 0.95 C above 1880s levels. This departure is somewhat above previous second hottest year place-holders — 2002 and 2003 — which both showed an angry 0.71 C rise. It is, however, behind the record-holding January of 2007 which at 0.93 C above the 20th Century average remains the hottest month in the total global surface temperature measure. The first of many to make attempts on the 1 C departure level.

January 2015

(Global Temperature anomaly map as provided by NASA GISS.)

Spatial assessment of hot and cold anomalies showed much of the world with hotter than normal temperatures. In the Northern Hemisphere, cooler temperatures were primarily confined to the Northeastern US, Eastern and Northeastern Canada, and a region through Baffin Bay, Eastern Hudson Bay, and the adjacent Canadian Archipelago. In Austral zones, the heat sink of the Southern Ocean continued to display resilience as near-Antarctic regions also showed slightly cooler than normal departures.

But these were the sole significant zones showing cooler than normal weather. In contrast, a broad belt ranging from the tropics through the sub-tropics showed +0.5 to 2 C temperature departures. But the Northern Hemisphere again showed the most significant heat with Northwestern North America, Asia and Europe all showing extreme temperature anomalies in the range of 2 C to 8.1 C above average.

Arctic amplification also reared over the Beaufort Sea and through the Northern Polar zone with heat anomalies in excess of 2 to 4 degrees C above average and with numerous days in which the entire Arctic displayed +3.5 C or higher departures.

zonal anomalies

(GISS zonal temperature anomalies.)

Zonal anomalies also revealed this trend with a region from 50 to 60 North Latitude showing temperature departures in the range of +2.8 C across the entire Latitudinal belt. Meanwhile, the region of 80 to 90 North was under nearly as strong a departure of +2.5 C above 20th Century averages for that zone. By contrast, the only zonal region with below average temperatures was beyond the 60 degrees South Latitude Line and averaged a rather minor departure of about -0.4 C.

Conditions in Context

The second hottest January on record comes after a Century-long warming trend in which temperaures have risen by an average of about 0.85 C above 1880s levels and about 1.1 C above a low point that occurred around 1910.

Land Ocean Temperature Index

(Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index — GISS/NASA.)

This warming is about a 20 times faster pace than at the end of the last ice age. During that time, it took 10,000 years for the Earth to warm by about 4 degrees Celsius. Over a single Century, we have achieved the equivalent to 1/5 post ice age warming on top of 1880 levels. It is also worth noting that recent record warm years in 2014, 2010, and 2005 occurred absent the kind of very strong El Nino that occurred in 1998. Most notably, for 2014, no El Nino was declared at all.

Which shows that for the climate, there is something indeed rotten in Denmark — and everywhere else for that matter.

Links:

NASA’s Global Surface Temperature Analysis

NASA: Melting, Darkening Arctic Ocean Turns Up Solar Heat by 5 Percent

Atop the world lies a thinning veil of ice. A gossamer lid covering a deep, dark Arctic Ocean. It is a reflector screen for incoming solar radiation during the months-long-day of Polar Summer. And a recent NASA study shows that this heat shield is starting to fail.

Ever since the late 1970s an Arctic warming at 2-3 times the rate of the rest of the globe has set off a 13.3 percent decline of sea ice at end summer during each and every following decade. And that cumulative loss is having an extraordinary impact. For the white, reflective ice cover by September has now, on average, fallen by nearly 50%. What remains is a thinner ice cover. One full of holes and interspersed with great and widening expanses of dark water.

Dark water and thinner, less contiguous, ice absorbs more of the sun’s heat. NASA notes that this added absorption can have far-flung impacts:

While sea ice is mostly white and reflects the sun’s rays, ocean water is dark and absorbs the sun’s energy at a higher rate. A decline in the region’s albedo – its reflectivity, in effect – has been a key concern among scientists since the summer Arctic sea ice cover began shrinking in recent decades. As more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the climate system, it enhances ongoing warming in the region, which is more pronounced than anywhere else on the planet.

For years, polar scientists have been warning of signs this powerful amplifying feedback was speeding an already drastic warming for the Arctic environment. Now, a 15 year satellite survey conducted by NASA provides direct evidence that this is indeed the case — with the Arctic now absorbing 5% more incoming solar energy than it did in the year 2000.

Arctic Sea Ice Changes

(Click Image to Enlarge. Left frame shows summer sea ice fraction change with measures in dark blue showing a greater than 50% loss on average. Right frame shows changes in absorbed solar radiation with most of the Arctic showing a 5 watt per meter squared or greater increase in solar radiation absorption and sections of the Beaufort Sea peaking at 50 watts per meter squared additional solar radiation absorption. Image source: NASA.)

Averaged over the Arctic, the failing summer sea ice and newly revealed dark waters absorb an extra 10 watts per meter squared of solar heat radiation. That extra heat is equivalent to having a 10 watt light bulb burning on every square meter of the Arctic Ocean surface throughout the entire polar summer. Twenty four hours per day, seven days a week for the seasonal period.

In some regions, like the Beaufort Sea near Northern Canada and Alaska, the extra heat absorption is as much as 50 watts per meter squared greater than year 2000 levels. An extraordinary increase in Arctic Ocean heat uptake and, perhaps, one of the chief reasons why higher Latitude ocean surface temperatures have tended to range so high in recent years.

It’s a massive realignment of the Earth’s radiative balance and one that has occurred in only a relatively short period.

NASA scientists are quick to caution that to fully take into account climate variability, the study will need to continue for another 15 years. But when taking into account the massive 35 year drop off in sea ice since 1979, it appears likely that radiative balance changes are even greater than the 15 year NASA study indicates.

September Arctic Sea Ice Loss 1979-2014

(NSIDC sea ice extent losses for Arctic since 1979 showing a 13.3% decadal rate of decline. Image source: NSIDC. Note NSIDC adds a linear trend line. However, historic rates likely show a more rapidly down curving melt progression — see image below.)

Overall, this loss of sea ice and related increased heat absorption has pushed melt season onset times a full week sooner than 1982 onsets 32 years ago. Earlier melt season starts lead to more heat absorption — a classic feedback cycle also recognized in the new NASA report.

In addition, the report links added Arctic Ocean summer heat absorption to loss of older, thicker ice observed throughout the Arctic region. Since 2000, more than 1.4 million square kilometers of 3 meter or thicker ice has melted out of the Arctic Ocean system. That ice has been replaced by coverages of less than 2 meters in thickness — another aspect of amplifying warming feedbacks at play in the Arctic.

Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt Maryland, notes:

Having younger and thus thinner ice during winter makes the system more vulnerable to ice loss during the summer melt season.

Whether these amplifying feedbacks will result in ice free summer conditions sooner rather than later is still a matter of some discussion among scientists. Following the 13.3 percent per decade trend puts us at ice free summers sometime around 2030-2035. But the large swings in annual variability could result in an earlier year in which ice free conditions occur. In addition, some scientists assert that amplifying heat feedbacks in the Arctic are enough to result in ice free summers as soon as 2017 to 2020.

To this point it may be worth considering that the 13.3 percent per decade rate may be steepening as is hinted at in the below long term graph:

2014_sea_ice_NSIDC_extended

(Long term melt trend compiled by Larry Hamilton. Image source: Here.)

Regardless of timing, the historic loss of Arctic sea ice is already resulting in dramatic impacts to the Earth’s radiative balance and to the distribution of global surface heat absorption. A circumstance that a number of studies have implicated in changing Jet Stream patterns and enhanced meridional (north to south and south to north) air flows.

Links:

Satellites Measure Increase of Sun’s Energy Absorbed in the Arctic

2014 Melt Season in Review

Arctic Melt Trends

Hat tip to TodaysGuestIs

July 2014 Shows Hottest Ocean Surface Temperatures on Record as New Warm Kelvin Wave Forms

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, July of 2014 was the 4th hottest in the 135 year global temperature record. Land surface temperatures measured 10th hottest in the global record while ocean surface temperatures remained extraordinarily hot, tying July of 2009 as the hottest on record for all years on measure over the past two centuries.

Overall, land temperatures were 0.74 C above the 1950 to 1981 average and ocean surface temperatures were 0.59 C above the same average.

These new record or near record highs come after the hottest second quarter year in the global temperature record where combined land and ocean temperatures exceeded all previous global high temperatures in the measure.

Much Hotter Than Normal July

Few regions around the globe showed cooler than average temperatures during July with zones over the east-central US, in the Atlantic just south of Greenland, and off South America in the Southern Ocean as the only regions showing cooler than normal temperatures. Record warmest temperatures ranged from Scandinavia to Iceland to Northeast Siberia, from California to Alaska to the Northeast Pacific, along a broad stretch of Pacific Ocean waters east of the Philippines and New Guinea, in pools in the North and South Atlantic Oceans off the coasts of North and South America, and in spots from Australia through the Indian Ocean to South Africa.

Land Ocean Temperature Percentiles July 2014

(Land and Ocean temperature anomalies for July of 2014. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

Overall, most of the surface of the Earth featured above average to record warmest conditions, while a minority of the Earth’s surface showed average or below average temperatures.

These new global heat records were reached even as slightly cooler than average waters began to up-well in the critical Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. A powerful Kelvin Wave that initiated during late winter and spring of 2014 failed to set off a summer El Nino and finally faded out, reducing heat transfer from Pacific Ocean waters to atmosphere. Even so, the ocean to atmosphere heat dump was enough to set off two record hot months for May and June and a record hot ocean surface month for July as ocean surface waters remained extraordinarily warm across many regions.

Hot Water August 18, 2014

(Ocean surface temperatures remained at or near record hot levels during July and August of 2014 despite a failed El Nino development in the Equatorial Pacific. The above graphic shows global water temperatures for August 18 at an extraordinary +1.13 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 average. Image source: University of Maine.)

New Warm Kelvin Wave Begins to Form

Though the atmosphere failed to respond to a powerful Kelvin Wave issuing across the Pacific earlier this year, stifling the development of a predicted El Nino, it appears a new warm Kelvin Wave is now beginning to form. Moderate west wind back bursts near New Guinea initiated warm water down-welling and propagation across the Pacific Ocean during July and early August. The down-welling warmth appeared to link up with warm water upwelling west of New Guinea and began a thrust across the Pacific over the past week.

As of the most recent sub-sea float analysis, anomalies in the new Kelvin Wave ranged as warm as 4-5 C above average:

Kelvin Wave August 14, 2014

(New warm Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

These sub-sea temps are rather warm for an early phase Kelvin Wave and may indicate another ocean to atmosphere heat delivery is on its way, despite a broader failure of El Nino to form by this summer.

Typically, strong Kelvin Waves provide the energy necessary for El Nino to form. The heating of surface waters due to warm water upwelling in the Equatorial Pacific tends to set off atmospheric feedbacks that perpetuate an El Nino pattern in which waters remain warmer than average in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific for many months. Without these atmospheric responses, El Nino cannot form.

During 2013 and 2014, strong Kelvin Waves forming during spring time were not enough to over-ride prevailing and historically strong trade wind patterns thereby allowing El Nino to emerge.

Atmospheric ‘Hiatus’ is No Halt to Global Warming

During recent years, scientific analysis has confirmed that a negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation together with record strength trade winds has suppressed El Nino formation and ocean to atmosphere heat transfer, leading to a temporary slow down in atmospheric temperature increases even as world ocean temperatures spiked.

heat_content2000m

(Global ocean heat content for 0-2000 meters of depth shows inexorable upward trend despite the so-called atmospheric warming hiatus. Image source: NOAA Ocean Heat Content.)

This natural variability, which typically lasts for 20-30 years began around the year 2000 and has continued through 2014. During such periods of negative PDO, we would expect rates of atmospheric warming to cease or even to go slightly negative. Unfortunately, even though PDO has been negative for nearly 15 years, a phase which during the 1940s to 1970s drove 0.35 C of transient atmospheric cooling against an overall larger warming trend, we have still seen atmospheric warming in the range of 0.1 C per decade.

This is bad news. For as ocean heat content is spiking, the transfer from atmosphere to ocean has not been enough to even briefly cut off atmospheric warming. And at some point, the oceans will deliver a portion of their latent heat back to the atmosphere, causing an even more rapid pace of temperature increase than was seen during the 1980s through 2000s period.

In other words, we’ve bent the cycle of natural variability to the point where we see warming, albeit slower warming, during times when we should have seen atmospheric cooling. And all indicators — radiative balance measured by satellite, deep ocean water temperatures, glacial melt, and atmosphere — show ongoing and inexorable warming.

Links:

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

University of Maine

NASA: ‘Haitus’ in Global Surface Temperatures Likely Temporary

NOAA Ocean Heat Content

 

 

NASA GISS Shows March 2014 Was Third Hottest on Record as Arctic Heatwave Spurs Siberian Fire Season to Early Start

 

NASA March 3rd Hottest

(NASA GISS Global Land-Ocean Temperature Anomaly vs the, already hotter than normal, 1951 to 1980 mean. Image source: NASA.)

According to NASA’s Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index, overall average temperatures for the month of March, 2014 were .69 to .7 degrees Celsius hotter than the 1951 to 1980 average. As a result, last month was the third hottest March in the global record since 1880. 2002 was ranked first hottest with 2010 as second hottest.

Nine of the ten hottest Marches on record have occurred since 2001. Ten of ten have occurred since 1998.

A wide zone of extraordinary temperature anomalies ranged throughout Siberia and the Arctic during the month with 4-8 C above average readings stretching along an enormous swath from Germany in the west to Yakutia in the east and from China in the south and on up to the North Pole.

Summer-like temperatures in Siberia

Large warmer than normal air pulses progressed from China northward over broad sections of Russia and Siberia throughout the month. These pulses harmonized with persistent high amplitude Jet Stream ridges over Eastern Europe to draw much warmer than average temperatures northward.

By early April, these conditions had translated into 70 degree (Fahrenheit) values for some sections of Siberia, where the annual fire season had an ominous, very early start for the Amur and the Baikal — Russian regions that are typically still locked in ice this time of year. Overall, by April 6, more than 2,000 hectacres of fires had been reported by the, justifiably, very concerned Russian officials.

Isolated Siberian Wildfire April 4

(An ominous and early start to fire season. Isolated Siberian wildfire visible from Satellite in center of frame on April 4, 2014. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

According to reports from Think Progress and The Siberian Times the heat coincided with extreme drought conditions:

“The forest fire situation is tense in Russia this year,” Russian Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi said at a conference chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “Due to a shortage of precipitation the forest fire season has begun almost one and a half months ahead of the norm.”

Temperatures in the Baikal and Amur regions were particularly hot with measures in late March and early April shattering previous temperature records by 2-9 degrees Celsius for the cities of Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Kemerovo, Barnaul and Gorno-Altaysk. Overall, this region of Russia has shown a very rapid pace of temperature increase: about .4 C per decade, or more than double the global average.

Polar amplification in very high gear

NASA zonal anomaly maps also continued to show evidence of an extreme polar temperature amplification in the Northern Hemisphere. Such high degrees of heat amplification at upper latitudes were a predicted result of human greenhouse gas emissions. Yet one more climate science prognostication that has borne out.

Zonal anomalies NASA

(March Zonal Temperature Anomalies. Image source: NASA.)

 

Links:

NASA

The Siberian Times

Siberia Experiencing Mid Summer Temperatures and Wildfires in April

LANCE-MODIS

Hat Tip to James Cole

 

NASA: September 2013 Hottest on Record Despite Somewhat Cool Eastern Pacific

According to NASA’s most recent global land and ocean surface temperature survey, September of 2013 was .74 degrees hotter than the 20th Century average. This measure ties September of 2005 as the record hottest. The difference between 2005 and 2013? 2005 was an El Nino year. A year when a large swath of the Eastern Pacific was dumping its heat content into the atmosphere. This year, the Eastern Pacific has remained somewhat cooler than normal, sucking a degree of atmospheric heat out and dumping it into the deeper oceans. But, despite what would normally be a drag on global surface heating, the world’s temperatures where the air contacts the land and the sea remain at or very near new record highs.

This situation is not cause for comfort or complacency. Nor is it one that indicates what has been termed a so-called ‘pause in global warming’ by so many ill-informed in the media. To the contrary, what we are seeing is that the natural variation of El Nino to La Nina — variations that for centuries and millenia have primarily governed to world’s periodic warm and cool spells — is slowly being overwhelmed by the human greenhouse gas forcing. What we are witnessing is ENSO neutral and La Nina years and months coming very close to and reaching record hottest temperatures.

So the rhetorical question we should all be considering is this: if we are experiencing record high temperatures now, when the Eastern Pacific is relatively cool, what happens to the global record when ENSO again starts to heat up? And, in any case, ENSO or no, it appears increasingly clear that more new record warm years are now in the offing.

NOAA Shows Global Temperatures at 4th Hottest

NOAA’s own set of temperature measures also show record heat, with worldwide temperatures ranging 4th highest for the month. The NOAA reading, which varies slightly to the NASA reading due to a difference in measurement methodology, follows a June measure in which the world ocean system tied 2010 for hottest on record.

NOAA Sep 2013 Temps large

(Image source: NOAA)

NOAA’s global temperature map found hotter than average readings covering much of the globe throughout September. Record hottest regions blanketed Australia, Iran and Afghanistan, a large section of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, and smaller, more isolated patches around the globe. No region experienced record coldest temperatures. The only concerted regions experiencing cooler than average temperatures include a section of Siberia and Central Russia, and a region of the Southern Ocean between South America and Antarctica. The Eastern Pacific, which drives ENSO, remained cooler than surrounding waters at near or just below the 20th Century average.

Between the NOAA and the NASA temperature measures, it remains clear that record or near record warmth continues to dominate the global climate with pools of hottest ever recorded temperatures continuing to drift over the world. Given the increasing warmth, despite no El Nino, it appears possible that, should El Nino not arise within the next 3-5 years (unlikely given a long history of variation), the world will achieve new record warm years without it. And such an event would be yet one more that is without precedent.

Too Soon to Call For El Nino’s Return

Nov 3 sst.daily.anom

(Image source: NOAA)

A pool of slightly cooler than average water over a moderate stretch of the Eastern Pacific during early November belies a continuing trend of ENSO neutral or La Nina leaning conditions. This pattern has dominated throughout much of the past two years and, currently, shows few signs of abating. As one can see from even the most cursory analysis of the image above, the global ocean system, despite the slight coolness in the Eastern Pacific, remains significantly warmer than the already warmer than average period of 1971-2000 which provides the base set for the above NOAA graphic.

The Hot Late Summer/Early Fall Arctic

One final driver to global heating during the months of September and August of 2013 appears to be a very warm late summer and early fall Arctic. Temperatures between the latitudes of 65 and 75 degrees North have been particularly warm with near record hottest and record hottest temperatures experienced in Scandinavia, regions of the Arctic Ocean north of Scandinavia, high north-west Canada, and Alaska. The Arctic Ocean in a zone between 70 to 75 North has experienced much warmer than normal conditions as sea ice remains between 4th and 6th lowest on record in all the various measurements.

Meanwhile, temperatures above the 80 degree North Latitude line, though not hitting the same record variances are regions nearer the Arctic Circle, showed temperatures ranging between 2 and 5 degrees Celsius above average for the months of September and October. This dumping of ocean and land heat into the Arctic environment, which slows the cooling of the Northern hemisphere into winter, has become an increasingly dominant weather phenomena over the past 5 years. It is also an event that has coincided with record loss of sea ice which has become particularly pronounced since 2007, with some years showing as much as 80% loss of sea ice volume and more than 50% losses of sea ice area and extent since 1979.

The resulting cooling lag in the Arctic during the months of August, September, October and November have, likely contributed to near record warm months globally during August and September of 2012 and 2013, despite La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions. This somewhat ominous signal shows that ENSO is in the process of gradually being over-ridden by other factors.

Climate models have indicated that the Arctic would be the first section of the globe to experience very rapid and pronounced warming under human greenhouse gas forcing and the related and powerful feedbacks of Arctic albedo loss and environmental greenhouse gas emission (methane and CO2). And with summer Arctic temperatures, in some regions, measuring their hottest in more than 40,000 years and with worldwide CO2 levels pushing toward their highest levels in 3 million years, it appears we are, sadly, at just the very beginning of such a dangerous and powerful warming trend.

Links:

NASA Global Land Surface Temperature Index

NOAA Global Analysis September 2013

NOAA Global Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly

Arctic Ice Graphs

Hottest September on Record

Unprecedented Recent Summer Warmth in Arctic Canada

NASA’s Brown Ocean Hurricane: Global Warming Amps Up Hydrological Cycle to Produce Cyclones that Strengthen over Land

New Cyclone Dynamics

(Image source: NASA)

A new report produced by NASA raises the possibility that global warming may be enhancing the potential for what it’s calling Brown Ocean Cyclones. In such events, record rainfall and heat over land produce hot, moist conditions that may give rise to Cyclones that increase in strength even after they make landfall.

A typical hurricane or tropical weather system usually rapidly loses strength once it comes into contact with land. The storms are fueled by a kind of heat and moisture engine. Warm, moist air over oceans hotter than 75 degrees provide big kicks to these storms as they roar across large stretches of ocean. Drier land masses provide less heat and moisture content to feed storms so they usually fade after crossing the coast.

But, over the past three decades, researchers noticed a strange phenomenon — storms that strengthened over land. In one example a 2007 tropical storm named Erin crossed over Texas and Oklahoma. As she turned north into a region that had recently encountered record flooding and rainfall, Erin strengthened, maintaining tropical storm intensity for far longer than meteorologists had predicted.

Erin 2007

Tropical Storm Erin in 2007 was a warm-core TCMI, which can deliver much more rainfall than their extratropical counterparts. The newly described storm type derives energy over land from the evaporation of abundant soil moisture.
Image Credit:
NASA Goddard/Hal Pierce, SSAI

 

(Image source: NASA)

 

Researchers later found that Erin had derived its energy from a high rate of soil evaporation in the regions it traversed after it made land-fall.

According to the NASA press release:

Andersen and Shepherd [the report’s authors] show that a brown ocean environment consists of three observable conditions. First, the lower level of the atmosphere mimics a tropical atmosphere with minimal variation in temperature. Second, soils in the vicinity of the storms need to contain ample moisture. Finally, evaporation of the soil moisture releases latent heat, which the team found must measure at least 70 watts averaged per square meter. For comparison, the latent heat flux from the ocean averages about 200 watts per square meter.

The new research found that of 45 storms that maintained or increased strength after they made landfall, 16 did so under the conditions described above. These conditions resulted in a new category for inland storms — tropical cyclone maintenance and intensification events or TCMIs.

Added Cyclone Intensity, Duration and Frequency from Human Caused Warming

Though NASA scientists do not mention the potential for global warming to create and enhance the occurrence of such storms, it is important to examine if the forces set in place by human caused warming and climate change will result in greater instances of such storms. To this point, global warming increases the evaporation and rainfall driven hydrological cycle by 8% for each degree Celsius of atmospheric warming (Lawrence Livermore). And as this new type of inland cyclone is driven by the intensity of evaporation and heat forcing (70 watts per meter squared or more) over land, then meta analysis would seem to indicate a greater risk for such events as Earth heats up and churns more moisture into the atmosphere.

Doing some, rather basic, math we find that a 4 degree Celsius warming creates a 32% intensification in the hydrological cycle, resulting in a greatly increased likelihood that tropical systems moving over land will encounter conditions consistent with TCMIs. This new risk adds to the likely increased frequency of storm hybridization events, like Sandy, where meandering flows in the Jet Stream (caused by Northern Hemisphere sea ice loss) encounter tropical systems to create monstrous Frankenstorms.

So we have not one, but two indirect methods where global warming may intensify or extend the duration of tropical cyclones.

Perhaps more ominous, global warming also provides a direct means through which storms are both induced to form over longer periods during the year and are given added fuel for intensification. This amplification of the ocean heat engine that drives powerful storms comes from the increasing temperature of the ocean surface through human-caused warming. In such cases, both the added atmospheric and ocean warmth and the increased hydrological cycle come directly into play resulting both in the potential for stronger storms and for an increased period of time in which tropical cyclones can form throughout the year.

The end result may be hurricane seasons that last from April or May to November or December in which storms with access to added fuel to feed their intensity may increasingly link up with Arctic weather systems to blow up into massive storms or persist or even strengthen for long periods over land.

These are important risks to consider as the Earth warms and the heat and moisture engine that drives these powerful storms continues to intensify.

Links:

 

Global Warming Continues During Natural Cooling Period: Despite Weak La Nina, June Was Earth’s Second Hottest On Record

sstJuly16

(Daily Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies. Image source: NOAA)

Take a look at the most recent sea surface temperature anomalies map provided by NOAA and what do you notice? The first thing is that most of the world’s oceans are warmer than normal for the base period of 1971-2000. But the eye is drawn to a telling patch of blue (cooler than the average) in the Eastern Pacific. This patch of blue water is enough to keep the Pacific Ocean on the La Nina side of neutral. Such conditions have prevailed through much of 2013.

Usually, such a patch of cooler water lasting for extended periods would tend to depress global surface temperatures, pushing them closer to the colder range of the scale. But, according to the NASA, June was anything but cool, marking the second hottest June on record when global land and ocean surface temperatures are averaged.

June second hottest NASA

 

(Image source: NASA)

As you can see in the image above, almost all the Earth’s surface was blanketed with warmer, much warmer, or record warmest temperatures. Only small areas showed cooler or much cooler than average temperatures. No regions in the data set showed record coldest temperatures. Perhaps most ominously, a huge amount of this excess heat has been dumped into the higher lattitudes, with Antarctica and a ring near and just below the Arctic Circle showing the highest temperatures — a symptom of the rash of Arctic Heatwaves that began in June and are still ongoing.

Human Heating Over-Rides Natural ‘Cool’ Period

The second hottest June on record occurred during a period of the Pacific Oscillation that results in more upwelling of cooler waters from beneath the surface. This transfer of colder, deeper waters to the surface layer interacts with the atmosphere and tends to have a net cooling effect. The result, under normal conditions, is that Earth cools during these periods. Such periodic upwelling and surface cooling of ocean waters is reflected in this month’s NCDC report which showed that world ocean surface temperatures were the 10th  hottest on record, lagging land surface temperatures which were 3rd hottest. NCDC’s measure found that June was the 5th hottest on record, compared to NASA’s finding that Earth experienced its second hottest June on record.

A new report on the effects of the Pacific Oscillation on natural climate variability and human warming is available at Skeptical Science. The report shows that the negative, cooling phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has been underway since at least the middle of the 2000s. But despite the emergence of a pattern that would drive the Earth to cool, Earth has experienced its two hottest years on record — 2005 and 2010 — during that time.

The driving force for this accumulating heat during a period that would naturally cool the Earth is a massive and ongoing accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere. Last year, human carbon emissions hit 45 gigatons with CO2 hitting a record near 33 Gigatons. In addition, some parts of the Arctic are also starting to see large carbon emissions from stocks long sequestered in the ice but that are now being forced to thaw by human-caused warming. The combination of the human forcing and an amplifying feedback in the Arctic is almost certainly driving Earth to warm, against trend, even when natural variability would be pushing it hard to cool.

Major Heat Surge Coming

The Skeptical Science report explored a model study that showed decades of negative Pacific Oscillation would result in net cooling of about .04 degrees Celsius. But the current period, though showing a somewhat slowed pace of atmospheric warming, has shown no net cooling when averaged over time. The fact that June 2013 is the second hottest June on record, despite the fact that we are in a ‘natural cooling trend’ is yet one more evidence of how powerful the human global warming forcing has become.

Eventually, the negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation will switch back into a positive phase. At that point, we will be hit with a surge of warming to make all past hot decades seem paltry by comparison. This heat pulse is coming. It may be 5, 10, even 15 years out. But it is surely coming. Meanwhile, conditions slowly worsen as we await the next heavy blow.

The Arctic Methane Monster Stirs: NASA’s CARVE Finds Plumes as Large as 150 Kilometers Across Amidst Year of Troubling Spikes

Barrow Methane

(Barrow Methane Record 2009 to Present. Image source: NOAA)

In late June and early July, Barrow Alaska showed two methane readings in excess of 1975 parts per billion. Sadly, this most recent methane spike is likely not to be an outlier.

The Barrow spike came in conjunction with a number of other anomalously high methane readings in the Arctic region during 2013. Most notably, the Kara, Barents and Norwegian Seas all showed atmospheric methane levels spiking to as high as 1935 parts per billion during the first half of 2013.

Kara, Barent, Norwegian Methane

(Kara, Barents, Norwegian Methane. Image source: Dr. Yurganov)

Averages in this and other regions around the Arctic are at new record highs even as atmospheric methane levels continue inexorably upward. For reference, Mauna Loa shows average global atmospheric methane levels are now at around 1830 parts per billion. These levels were around 700 parts per billion at the start of the industrial revolution before they rocketed upward, roughly alongside increasing CO2 concentrations, as fossil fuel based industry saw its dramatic expansion over the past couple of centuries.

Now, human global warming is beginning to unlock a monstrous store of methane in the Arctic. A source that, in the worst case, could be many times the volume of the initial human emission. To this point, areas around the Arctic are now showing local methane levels above 1950 parts per billion with an ever-increasing frequency. The issue is of great concern to scientists, a number of which from NASA are now involved in an investigative study to unearth how large and damaging this methane beast is likely to become.  (You can keep account of these methane spike regions in real time using the Methane Tracker Google app linked here. )

CARVE Finds 150 Mile Wide Methane Plumes

A NASA program is now surveying Arctic methane releases to determine their level of amplifying feedback to human caused warming. Understanding the Arctic’s response to human warming is very important because vast stores of carbon many times the volume of human emissions over the past 200 years lay locked in both permafrost and in methane hydrates throughout the Arctic. As humans have caused the Earth to warm, sea ice and tundra melt have allowed organic carbon to decompose and bubble up in the form of methane and CO2 with ever greater force. Since a significant fraction of these Arctic carbon releases are in the form of methane, and because methane provides as much as 100 times the warming effect of CO2 by volume, even a small proportionate release of this vast carbon store could provide an extraordinarily powerful amplifying feedback to human caused climate change.

Recent studies have found that only a 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature increase puts these stores in jeopardy of large release. The amount of warming since the start of the Industrial Revolution is already at least .8 degrees Celsius (about 1/6th the difference between now and the last ice age, but on the side of hot). Perhaps more importantly, temperature forcing by human greenhouse gas emissions have done proportionately more work to melt ice and warm oceans than previously expected. As a result, the ice which locks in these vast carbon stores is disappearing at a rate far greater than most global models anticipated. This more rapid pace of thaw causes Earth Systems feedbacks to human warming to be an increasingly dire issue now.

As a result, we already have numerous instances of increased methane release around the Arctic. In 2011, a Russian expedition to the East Siberian Arctic shelf found vast plumes of methane 1 kilometer across rising up from the sea bed. All across the Arctic, researchers are finding methane bubbling up from tundra melt ponds. The concentrations of some of these melt ponds are so high that, in some cases, they burst into plumes of flame when lit.

Methane released from melt lake, Arctic

(Methane release from Arctic Melt ponds in high enough concentration to burn when lit. Image source: Sustainable Development Blog)

These methane sources also provide a serious fire hazard to the fragile Arctic environment, serving as fuel to massive tundra fires. Such fuel sources likely worsened a number of Arctic fires including this year’s Quebec inferno in which a single fire consumed 1,600,000 acres and sent plumes of smoke all the way across the Atlantic to Europe or last year’s Siberian fires that consumed millions of acres and whose smokes crossed the Pacific to fill valleys in Canada. The soot from these fires is yet one more amplifying feedback to climate change, as evidenced in a recent Los Alamos Laboratories study. Arctic fires, of late, have packed a punch far more powerful than even their southern brethren who’ve caused so much damage and loss to communities in recent years. The explosive nature of these tundra fires is plainly visible in this image of a massive Alaska blaze, larger than Rhode Island, provided below:

Massive tundra fires Alaska

(Image source: New Scientist)

Now, CARVE is finding its own evidence of massive Arctic methane emissions. Charles Miller, NASA’s principle investigator for the CARVE project, in a recent article, noted that the mission had discovered numerous atmospheric methane plumes in the Arctic. Some of these atmospheric plumes were of immense and troubling size, stretching as wide as 150 miles across.

Miller also notes:

“As temperatures warm, it’s thought that … organic materials could decompose more rapidly and give rise to gases such as carbon dioxide and methane,” Miller said. “The anticipated release of carbon should accelerate climate change…I think the experts all agree that that’s the case. The question that we’re grappling with is how much carbon might be vulnerable to release, and how fast might it be released.”

The CARVE mission is still in progress and end results are pending. But these initial reports from Miller and his team add to the disturbing evidence already arising from the Arctic. Evidence that became widely apparent in 2012 as Arctic methane release emerged as a powerful amplifying feedback to human-caused warming. In short, it appears that the Arctic methane response to human warming began sometime late last century and ramped up throughout the 2000s. Now, the Arctic appears to be providing an increasingly powerful amplifying feedback to human caused warming. It is a dangerous situation and one that should be abated as swiftly as possible through a prompt series of ongoing actions.

To these points, the following video, provided by NBC News gives excellent context.

As I’m unable to embed, the link to this video is provided here.

 

I would, however, like to add one caveat:

Global warming is not likely to unfold in a manner similar to the events depicted in the sci-fi movie “The Day After Tomorrow.” The pace of damage will be slower at first with weather worsening over time, sea level rise gradually worsening, and impacts to crops and agriculture increasing year by year, decade by decade. In this long ramping up period, there are increasing risks of single catastrophic events. But such events won’t have a neat finish. They will happen again and again, with risks and effects worsening as atmospheric heat energy increases. Perhaps, most importantly, humans will have to recover from these events in base conditions that are already difficult to manage.

As such, human climate change represents a long emergency of increasingly worsening base conditions even as the risk of increasingly damaging catastrophic events continues to rise over time. It is this ratcheting effect of climate change that makes it so deadly. The increasingly difficult base conditions make maintenance of human civilization far more difficult even as it reduces the chance that human systems will effectively recover from a number of devastating catastrophes that are surely in the pipe.

Once the climate juggernaut gets rolling it unleashes and multiplies a number of terribly monstrous and ever-worsening events. And it is for this critical reason that we need to get a handle on our carbon emissions as rapidly as possible.

Links:

NOAA

NASA’s CARVE Mission

Methane Tracker

Methane Forum Posts: Arctic Ice Blog

Vast Reservoirs of Arctic Carbon Could Effect Global Warming

A4R Methane Tracking

Sustainable Development Blog

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