“It’s Worse Than We Thought” — New Study Finds That Earth is Warming Far Faster Than Expected

Ocean Heat Map

(Upper ocean heat anomaly map for 2002 through 2011 shows extreme global heating of the upper ocean during the past decade. Image source: Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming.)

2 Degrees Celsius. That’s the ‘safe limit’ for human warming now recommended by the IPCC. But under current human greenhouse gas heating of the atmosphere and oceans, 2 C is neither safe, nor the likely final upper limit of the warming we will probably eventually see.

In the push and pull between all the various political and scientific interests over setting these goals and limits, the glaring numbers really jump out at the wary analyst. One is the total heat forcing now being applied to the atmosphere by all the greenhouse gasses we’ve dumped into the air over the years and decades. That total, this year, rose to a stunning 481 parts per million CO2 equivalent. And if we look at paleoclimate temperature proxies, the last time the world’s atmosphere contained 481 parts per million CO2 was when temperatures were in the range of 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than we see today.

It takes time for all that extra heat to settle in, though. Decades and centuries for ice to melt, oceans to warm and the Earth System to provide feedbacks. So what scientists are really concerned with when it comes to recommending policy is how much warming is likely to occur this century. And, for this measure, they’ve developed a broad science for determining what is called Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS).

ECS is sensitivity to a given heat forcing that does not include the so-called slow feedbacks of ice sheet and ocean responses. For this measure, 481 ppm CO2e gets us to around 1.8 degrees Celsius warming this Century — if the Earth System and related so-called slow feedbacks are as slow to respond as we hope they will be…

Earth System Warming Far Faster Than Expected

Earlier this week, a new study emerged showing that the world was indeed warming far faster than expected. The study, which aimed sensors at the top 700 meters of the World Ocean, found that waters had warmed to a far greater extent than our limited models, satellites, and sensors had captured. In particular, the Southern Ocean showed much greater warming than was previously anticipated.

Winds and a very active downwelling, likely driven by a combined freshening of water near Antarctica and an increased salinity due to warming near the equator, drove an extraordinary volume of heat into these waters. An extra heat in the oceans that was 24 to 58 percent higher than previous estimates. An extraordinary rate of uptake earlier measures had missed.

Upper Ocean Heat Content trends

(Upper ocean heat content trends from 1970 to 2004. Note the extraordinary amount of heat being forced into the Southern Ocean near the 50 degrees South Latitude line. This heat forcing is likely due to increased storminess and ocean circulation-driven down-welling related to effects driven by human caused climate change such as increased glacial melt in Antarctica and increased sea surface salinity near the equator. Image source: Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming.)

This observation led New Scientist to make the following rather blunt statement:

It’s worse than we thought. Scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate.

The implications of finding this extra heat are rather significant. For one, it upends current Equilibrium Climate Science. Gavin Schimdt — Chief NASA GISS scientist — over at RealClimate, noted that the study’s findings would increase ECS ranges from 1.1 to 4.1 C to 1.1 to 4.7 C (a 15% percent increase by Gavin’s calculation). This increase shows that the Earth System may well be both far more sensitive to current human heat forcing and may well be likely to warm far faster this century than scientists had previously hoped. For broader context, it’s worth noting that the scientific community generally considers ECS to be in the range of 1.5 to 4.5 C (3 C average). And any analysis of the new findings is likely to push sensitivity to the higher range of these scales.

Dr Wenju Cai from CSIRO in Australia added by noting that the results mean the world is warming far faster than we thought:

“The implication is that the energy imbalance – the net heating of the earth – would have to be bigger,” he says.

Higher rates of Earth Systems responses to human heat forcing this century and a larger net energy imbalance in the global system together spell very bad news. What this means is that there is both more heat forcing now than we at first expected and that that heat forcing is likely to bring about more extreme climate consequences far sooner than we had initially hoped.

These findings are new and will take some time to ring through the scientific community. And though this study provides a more complete picture of how rapidly the Earth is warming and where that heat is going, we are still missing another big part of the puzzle — what is happening to the deep ocean. Recent studies by Trenberth hint that that region of the climate system is also taking up extra heat very rapidly. So, hopefully, more exact measures of the total ocean system can give us an even better idea of how the Earth System is responding to our insults.

Yet again, we have another study showing clearly that conditions are today worse than we previously expected. How we can continue to do things like build coal plants and plan to burn oil and natural gas throughout the 21st Century is beyond imagining. But here we are…


Quantifying Underestimates of Long-Term Upper Ocean Warming

The World is Warming Faster Than We Thought

Different Depths Reveal Ocean Warming Trends

Climate Responses From Lewis and Curry

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to Bassman


Last Chance for 2014 El Nino: Second Kelvin Wave Strengthens in Pacific Amid Favorable Atmospheric Conditions

2014 has been a rough year for El Nino forecasting.

During Winter and Spring, an extraordinarily strong Kelvin wave rocketed across the Pacific. Containing heat anomalies in excess of 6 C above average, this flood of trans-Pacific warmth hit the ocean surface, dumping an extraordinary amount of heat into the atmosphere. The heat helped drive global sea surface temperatures for May, June, and July to all-time record values.

Many forecasters believed that this heat would lead to a moderate to strong El Nino event starting this summer. And, by June, NOAA was predicting that El Nino was 80% likely to emerge some time this year.

But the initial oceanic heat pulse was crushed by a failure of atmospheric feedbacks. The trans-Pacific trade winds, with a few visible exceptions, remained strong enough to suppress El Nino formation. And so it appeared that, by late July, the initial powerful heat pulse providing potential for El Nino had almost entirely fizzled.

Then, a second warm Kelvin Wave began to form even as Southern Oscillation values started to fall.

Second Warm Kelvin Wave Crosses Pacific

(Second warm Kelvin Wave running across Pacific has resurrected the potential for a weak to moderate late 2014 El Nino. Image source: Climate Prediction Center.)

This second Kelvin Wave contains a broad swath of +2 to +5 C anomaly values and is rapidly propagating toward the surface zones of the Central and Eastern Pacific. And though not as strong as the Kelvin Wave that formed earlier this year, the current Kelvin Wave is occurring in conjunction with what appears to be a somewhat more robust atmospheric feedback.

The Southern Oscillation Index, a measure of pressure differences between Tahiti and Darwin, is an indicator of Nino related atmospheric conditions. At consistent values below -8, weather variables tend to favor El Nino formation. And, for the past twelve days, 30 day averages have been below the -8 threshold. If these values extend for much longer, the coincident warm Kelvin Wave and atmospheric conditions favorable for El Nino may well set off this long-predicted event.

Model runs still show a 60-65% chance of El Nino formation before the end of this year and NOAA’s forecast continues to call for a weak El Nino forming some time in late 2014:

El Nino Forecast

(Model Forecast shows 60-65 percent chance of El Nino by November through January. Image source: CPC/IRI.)

It is worth noting that this second warm Kelvin Wave is providing the last chance for El Nino in 2014. So if atmospheric feedbacks fade and sea surface temperatures remain just on the high side of ENSO neutral, then 2014 will close without the incidence of this wide-scale Pacific Ocean and atmospheric warming event.

With weak El Nino, however, there is still a likelihood that 2014 will tie or exceed hottest ever global surface temperature values. A failure for El Nino to form will probably result in 2014 closing as one of the five hottest years on record, given current trends.


Climate Prediction Center


Southern Oscillation Index







Worst Heatwave in 140 Years Turns Deadly After Scorching China for More than a Month; Forecast Predicts No Relief

Heatwaves — they’re a regular risk of summer. But this year has seen a rash of particularly vicious and anomalous instances. As the Arctic baked under numerous heatwaves in which temperatures shattered the 90 degree (Fahrenheit) mark, as the US experienced some of its worst southwestern heat ever recorded, as the UK experienced record summer heat and wildfires, and as Spain sweltered as temperatures soared above 40 degrees C (above 104 F), China was experiencing its own version of a global warming amplified scorcher.

The worst heatwave in 140 years smothered about 1/3 of China, a sprawling area covering about 3 million square miles. At the heat epicenter, Shanghai, a region inhabited by 23 million people, saw daytime temperatures above 35 degrees C (95 F) for more than 25 days during July of 2013. On July 26th, Shanghai experienced an all-time record high of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (42 C), a level not reached since record keeping began in 1873.

Shanghai also reported ten deaths and far more numerous heat injuries for the month, as the hot weather intensified this Wednesday, while dozens of deaths have been reported over a large, scorched area of south-coastal China.

Throughout this week, China has been issuing its second highest national heat alert. This level requires the establishment of a 24 hour emergency operations center in order to provide emergency response and support capabilities for the hardest hit areas. The highest alert level is so extreme that China has never used it. Unfortunately, as the human-caused warming trend continues, it seems ever more likely that such a high heat category will have to be put in use.

Those living in Hangzhou, a region located about 100 miles to the southwest of Shanghai, may have already thought officials should have used such a marker as temperatures soared to above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees C), for six out of seven days over the past week. Meanwhile, Xiaoshan saw a new all-time record high temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42.2 degrees C) on Tuesday. The coastal city of Ningbo saw temperatures hit 109 degrees F on July 26th, the highest temperature ever recorded for a coastal city in all of South-East Asia.

In what has become a kind of macabre ritual in widening areas of the world affected by extreme heat, Chinese residents laid out shrimp and eggs to fry over scorching road surfaces. More ominously, the extreme heat threatened crops even as it baked rivers and lakes setting off massive fish kills from heat and anoxia. In some regions, the fish kills were so extreme that an estimated 60 percent of all fish were lost (normal summer heat may result in 5-10 percent fish losses in affected regions).

In order to protect crops and fish, China has engaged in a cloud seeding effort in hopes of spurring rainfall over scorched areas while it is urging localities and fish farmers to pump new water into ponds and rivers to enhance oxygen levels and reduce fish losses.

Heat dome, coastal flow, very high wet bulb temperatures

Coastal region of China hardest hit by heat wave.

Coastal region of China hardest hit by heat wave.

(Image source: Lance-Modis)

A dome of hot, moist air has persisted over this region for nearly a month now. Though rainfall and even flooding events have occurred due to a flow of Pacific moisture over the area and the occasional onrush of tropical cyclones, these rainfall events have done little to alleviate a combination of oppressive heat and humidity.

Flows off the ocean would normally help to somewhat alleviate the heat, but an area of typically hot summer water is now showing readings 1-2 degrees Celsius above average. This broad region of hotter than normal surface ocean waters off China now show temperatures higher than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Windflows issuing off these extraordinarily hot ocean surface areas are not very helpful in cooling the baking land. Worse still, the heat dome conditions — stifling airflow, concentrating heat and locking in place a layer of heat amplifying haze and smog — have persisted for much of the past month. This combination of less effective ocean cooling and heat dome conditions has resulted in a terribly severe heatwave for this coastal region.

Coastal heatwaves are particularly oppressive and potentially lethal due to the fact that humidity tends to remain higher than in more arid regions. A wet bulb temperature above 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) is considered lethal for human beings. Those living in Southeast Asia are well used to living under sweltering conditions of high heat and humidity. But as temperatures approach this human threshold (25 C + wet bulb temperature), even those acclimated are at increased risk. So both extreme heat and high humidity likely contributed to the sad and tragic dozens of instances in which lives were lost during this particular event.

The forecast for Shanghai next week calls for continuing record heatwave conditions with high temperatures ranging from 99 to 102 degrees (Fahrenheit) from Sunday through Saturday. With humidity levels near 50% this means wet bulb temperatures will approach 29-30 degrees Celsius during the hottest portions of the day. This continuation of a scorching summer heat wave will result in high risk of both heat injury and loss of life for those living in this sweltering region. With little to no relief in the forecast, this section of China is likely to remain under the fire of human-caused heating as August advances.


People Crops and Fish Suffer in China’s Heat Wave

Dozens of Deaths Blamed on China’s Heat Wave

Heat Wave Blamed for Huge Pile of Dead Fish

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