April of 2017 was the Second Hottest in 137 Year Climate Record

According to measurements by NASA’s GISS global temperature monitoring service, April of 2017 was considerably warmer than all past Aprils in the climate record with the single exception of 2016.

The month came in at 0.88 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline and fully 1.1 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages. This measure was just 0.01 C warmer than now third warmest 2010 and 0.18 C shy of last year’s record. All of the top ten hottest Aprils on record have occurred since 1998 and six of the top ten hottest Aprils have occurred since 2010.

(During April of 2017, and with only a few moderate exceptions, most of the world experienced above normal to considerably above normal surface temperatures. Image source: NASA GISS.)

The first four months of 2017 now average around 1.21 degrees Celsius warmer than 1880s ranges. This number is about tied with 2016’s overall record warmth which was spurred by a combined strong El Nino and the incredible buildup of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere that we have seen for over more than a century. It is also a warming that is now strong enough to start bringing on serious geophysical changes to the Earth System. The longer readings remain so warm or continue to increase, the more likely it is that instances of global harm in the form of glacial melt, sea level rise, ocean health decline, severe storms and other extreme weather will worsen or emerge.

This year, ENSO neutral conditions trending toward the cooler side of average during the first quarter should have helped to moderate global temperatures somewhat. As is, though a slight cooling vs the first quarter of 2016 is somewhat evident, the broader, more general counter-trend cooling that we would expect following a strong El Nino is practically non-apparent.

(A mildly warm Kelvin Wave forming in the Equatorial Pacific brings with it the chance of a weak El Nino by summer of 2017. This warming of such a broad region of surface waters may combine with atmospheric CO2 and CO2e in the range of 405 and 493 ppm respectively to keep global temperatures near record highs of around 1.2 C above 1880s averages during 2017. Image source: NOAA EL Nino.)

Very strong Northern Hemisphere polar warming during the winter months appears to be a primary driver pushing overall global temperatures higher during recent months. Meanwhile, southern hemisphere polar amplification is becoming more and more apparent over time.

In April, the trend of Northern Hemisphere polar amplification/warming was readily apparent in the NASA measure despite a seasonal relative cooling. Under global warming related heat forcing, we would expect to see the highest temperature departures during late fall through winter. And as 2016 transitioned into 2017, this kind of warming was amazingly evident.

(Only the very far north and the very far south saw below average temperatures in NASA’s zonal measure. Meanwhile, temperatures in the lower Arctic were particularly warm. Image source: NASA GISS.)

Anomalies during April in the higher latitudes did cool somewhat to 2 to 2.6 C above average in the key 65 to 75 N Latitude zone. Highest departures continued to be very considerable for April — ranging from 4 C to as much as 7.5 C above average over Northeastern Siberian, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, the Bering Sea and parts of Northwest Alaska. Meanwhile, temperatures over the Central Arctic dipped to slightly below average as polar amplification in the southern hemisphere appeared to take a break before warming again in March.

Globally, according to GFS model reanalysis data, temperatures appeared to cool through the end of April. However, by early May another warm-up was underway and, if the GFS measure is any guide, it appears that May will likely be about as warm as April overall. This track would tend to make it 1rst to 4th warmest on record if this trends analysis bears out.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA EL Nino

Global and Regional Climate Anomalies

 

North Atlantic May Cough up Another Out of Season Tropical Cyclone this Week

Like pretty much everywhere else in the world ocean these days, and due primarily to a rampant injection of greenhouse gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere through fossil fuel burning, the North Atlantic is now considerably warmer than during the 19th and 20th Centuries…

Warming Waters and An Angry Jet Stream

That extra heat provides more available fuel for tropical storm and hurricane formation. It increases the top potential peak intensity of the most powerful storms. And it extends the period in which such tropical cyclones are capable of forming — for sea surface temperatures of at least 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit are often necessary to fuel such systems (please also see the present science on how climate change is impacting tropical cyclones).

(Sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic now range between 1 and 7 degrees Celsius above average for most regions. These warmer than normal sea surfaces provide more fuel for storms even as they extend the period during which tropical storm and hurricane formation is possible. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But it’s worth noting that warm ocean waters are not the only ingredient that add to the potential for the formation and strengthening of these powerful storms. Instability and cloud formation are often necessary to seed such systems. And the more extreme warm and cold temperature anomalies associated with wavier Jet Stream patterns inject exactly this form of instability into the middle latitudes at a higher rate than was witnessed during past decades.

Due to its proximity both to a melting Greenland and to a rapidly warming Arctic, the North Atlantic is particularly vulnerable to the production of powerful swirls of warm and cold air. Warming tropics collide with the cold air producing pools of glacial freshwater melt and the enlarging meanders of the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream. And it’s the proliferation of these unstable vortices forming over warming waters throughout the North Atlantic that may start to generate a more and more noticeable higher incidence of both out of season cyclones and stronger storm systems.

(A persistent swirl of disorganized clouds in the Central North Atlantic — continuously re-charged by frontal systems sweeping down from Baffin Bay and feeding on warmer than normal sea surface temperatures may become the first tropical cyclone of 2017. If it later forms into a tropical storm, it will become the third out-of-season named storm to form in the Atlantic over the last 15 months. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

Last year, extremely warm sea surface temperatures combined with this kind of observed instability to spur the formation of Hurricane Alex during January. Tropical storm Bonnie also formed out of season during May. Similar very warm ocean conditions then helped to kick-start the late November formation of Category 3 Hurricane Otto (though November is still technically hurricane season, it’s supposed to be very rare to see so strong a storm form so late in the year).

Possible April Cyclone Underlines Recent High Incidence of Out of Season Storms

Fast forward to April of 2017. According to the National Hurricane Center, there’s now a 30 percent chance that a tropical depression may form in the Central Atlantic over the next 48 hours. Ultimately, such a system could gather into the first Atlantic named storm of 2017 — Arlene. Such an event would mark the third time in just 15 months that the Atlantic basin had produced an out-of-season tropical storm or hurricane.

(A vast majority — 97 percent — of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic form during hurricane season from June 1 to November 30. That said, human forced climate change may now be in the process of providing more fuel for the formation of out-of-season storms. Image source: North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology.)

Incidence of out-of-season tropical storms or hurricanes in the Atlantic is rather rare. Over 158 years from 1851 to 2009, perhaps one such system formed, on average, each year. Moreover, these storms primarily formed during May — which by itself produced more out-of-season storms than December through April combined. And a vast majority of these systems were tropical storms — not hurricanes or major hurricanes.

In 2016 and 2017, Alex formed as a hurricane during January — which is practically unheard of. Bonnie formed during late May, which was less unusual but still out-of-season. Otto formed as a category 3 major hurricane during late November — another anomalous event. Meanwhile, if Arlene forms this April it will represent 1 out of only about 20 such systems that formed during the month in the period of 1851 through 2009.

But even if we don’t get a tropical cyclone in the middle of the North Atlantic during April of 2017, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that conditions have changed. That forecasters now need to be more alert for out-of-season tropical cyclones and to the various new weather phenomena that are now being precipitated by a warming climate.

Links:

The National Hurricane Center

Hurricanes and Climate Change

Earth Nullschool

LANCE MODIS

Extreme Weather Events Linked to Climate Change Impact on Jet Stream

North Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Climatology

Hat tip to Vaughn

Hat tip to Hilary

So Far, 2017 is in the Running to be the 4th Consecutive Hottest Year on Record

We haven’t quite gotten to the global ‘year without a winter’ yet. But it sure looks like we’re heading in that direction –fast.

Due to the highest volume of heat-trapping gasses hitting the Earth’s atmosphere in all of the past 4-15 million years combining with a warming of Pacific Ocean surface waters, the period of 2014 through 2016 saw an unprecedented three consecutive record hot years. With Pacific Ocean waters cooling during late 2016, it appeared that 2017 would become ‘just’ the 2nd to 5th hottest year ever recorded. But that was before the waters off South America’s west coast began to blaze with unexpected heat during early 2017 even as temperatures at the poles climbed to surprisingly warm levels.

(Due to the combined effects of extremely high levels of heat trapping gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere and a switch to the warmer phase of natural variability, the global rate of temperature increase has rocketed over the past three years. 2017 was not expected to continue this trend. But it might. Image source: Karsten Haustein. Data Source: NASA GISS.)

These two sources of unexpected added heat have left their mark. And though it’s still early in the global warming game for 2017, there appears to be an odd, but not entirely outlandish, chance that this year could beat out 2016 as the hottest year ever recorded.

The month of January 2017 came in at 1.14 C hotter than 1880s averages. Meanwhile February measured 1.32 C hotter than this 19th Century benchmark. In total, the first two months of 2017 averaged about 1.23 C hotter than 1880s — which is a hair hotter than 2016’s never-before-seen by modern humans annual average temperature.

(Extreme warmth over parts of Siberia and the Arctic appear to have helped push March of 2017 into the range of second hottest on record. The first three months of 2017 currently appear to be running in a range that’s ahead of 2016 annual record hot average.)

Looking ahead, early indications are that March was also around 1.3 C hotter than 1880s. If a first or second hottest March on record pans out as indicated by early NCEP and GFS model reanalysis, then the first three months of 2017 will come in nearly 0.1 C hotter than all of last year.

During the present human-forced warming trend, it has tended to take about ten years for a global temperature increase of 0.15 degrees Celsius to occur. And that rate of warming is about 30 times faster than the warming that occurred at the end of the last ice age. Since 2013, the world has warmed 0.25 C — which could jump to 0.3 to 0.35 C in the period of 2013 to 2017 if the present trend for this year continues.

There are many months still to go in 2017. So this potential isn’t at all certain at this time. However, with the Pacific Ocean heating up again, it appears that 2017 is going to give 2016 a real run for its ‘hottest ever’ title.

Links:

NASA GISS

Karsten Haustein

NCAR Reanalysis by Moyhu

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

A Halo of Storms and Heatwaves — New Study Confirms that Global Warming is Wrecking the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream

“We came as close as one can to demonstrating a direct link between climate change and a large family of extreme recent weather events.”Michael Mann

*****

The Earth is warming, the weather is growing more extreme, and from the observational perspective, it appears that the Northern Hemisphere Jet Stream has undergone some seriously disturbing changes. Over the past five years, this subject has been one that’s spurred heated debate among scientists, meteorologists, and global climate and weather watchers. Now, a new model study finds that it’s likely that the Jet Stream is being significantly altered by human-forced climate change and that this alteration is helping to drive extreme weather events like the 2003 European heat wave, the 2010 Pakistan flood and Russian heat wave, the 2011 Texas heat wave and recent floods in Europe.

(More extreme variation in upper level wind speeds is an upshot of polar warming during boreal summer. The result is that risks of severe heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods increases as the Earth warms. Image source: Michael Mann, Penn State.)

From the study:

… our analysis of both historical model simulations and observational surface temperature data, strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming is impacting the zonal mean temperature profile in a manner conducive to wave resonance and a consequent increase in persistent weather extremes in the boreal summer.

What this means is that the new study provides still more evidence that the Jet Stream’s north to south variance is increasing during summer. As a result, it is enabling powerful heat domes to form in regions where winds run from south to north. In regions where the upper level winds run from north to south, it creates cooler zones in which powerful storms can flood large swaths of countryside. In other words, increasingly juxtapposed zones of extreme temperature anomalies and higher atmospheric instability and moisture loading tend to form more and more often. And this results in weather patterns that we have never really seen before.

(An Inconvenient Sequel is a call for action on climate change like we’ve never seen before. And the imperative to act on climate is now stronger than it ever was.)

The fact that the Mann study uses observational and model assessments to find that such changes are likely to very likely now being caused by human-forced warming and related polar amplification is a highly significant scientific finding. It adds one more attribution tie to the extreme weather events that we’ve been seeing with increasing frequency. A tie directly to global warming. And it does so through model studies that identify the underlying physical mechanisms at work. It’s a pivotal moment in the atmospheric sciences. And everyone needs to sit up and pay attention.

Credits: 

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Scientific hat tip to Dr Michael Mann

(Please support publicly-funded, non-special interest based science that is now under assault by the climate change denying Trump Administration)

Weird Polar Warming Appears to Have Made February of 2017 the Second Hottest Ever Recorded 

I think the scientific consensus will be that February probably should not have been so darn hot. But it was. And that’s pretty amazingly weird.

****

Clocking in at 1.32 C above 1880s averages, the month was oddly and disturbingly warm. The strong equatorial Pacific Ocean surface warming that was the El Nino of 2015-2016 had long since passed. The effects of a weak La Nina cooling of the same waters during late 2016 still lingered. And the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) — a measure of ocean surface temperature oscillation in the Pacific that tends to help drive natural variability based warming and cooling cycles — showed a meager warming bias value of 0.08 (or barely positive).

All these factors pointed toward a climate system that should have been pulling the world into a cyclical short term cooling during 2017 and 2018 (relative to 2016 record warmth). Global temperatures under such conditions would have been expected to recede about 0.1 to 0.2 C off highs hit during 2016 of 1.2 C hotter than 1880s temperatures. Averaging in a still disturbingly warm range near 1 C above 1880s values but waiting for the next El Nino cycle for a run at new global record warmth.

Heat Heads Toward the Poles

But, so far, the expected cyclical cooling isn’t happening. Instead, January of 2017 showed up as 1.14 C hotter than 1880s while February was 1.32 C hotter. The combined average of these two months was 1.23 C warmer than the preindustrial baseline — or a hair warmer that the 2016 average. This shouldn’t have happened. But it did. And now there is some risk that 2017 may be yet another record hot year. The fourth in a row consecutively.

So what was the cause?

(February saw highest above average temperature readings centered near the poles — a signal that polar warming was the primary factor driving near record heat for the month. Image source: NASA.)

According to NASA, both polar zones experienced considerable above average temperatures during the month of February. Lower latitude temperatures were also well above average, but the highest temperature spikes appeared in the far north and the far south. At the 80 to 90 north and south latitude zones, temperatures were 4.5 and 2 C above average respectively. And the heat was particularly intense in the Northern Hemisphere Arctic and near Arctic between 60 and 90 north latitude with temperatures ranging from 3 to 4.5 C above average.

Polar Amplification Appears to Drive Weird 2017 Warmth

Such strong warming at the poles is indicative of a global warming related condition called polar amplification. The causes of polar amplification include increasing water vapor at the poles, high greenhouse gas overburdens in the Arctic, a darkening of the polar ice from particulates (wildfire and human-produced smoke), intensification of transport of heat from the lower and middle latitudes toward the poles, warming oceans and changes in ocean circulation, and loss of snow and ice cover at the poles. To this final point, sea ice coverage has been consistently at or near record lows for both the northern and southern polar regions.

(Global sea ice extent at record lows likely helped to contribute to extremely warm conditions at the poles during February of 2017. Less sea ice means more water vapor evaporating from oceans in the polar regions. Water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas. In addition, warmth from the ocean can more readily ventilate into local atmospheres which aids in heat transport to the polar regions as the skein of sea ice retracts. Image source: Wipneus. Data Source: NSIDC.)

Polar amplification is not typically cited as a climate event that can overcome the transient cooling signal of a post El Nino period. However, given a first look at the evidence, this appears to be exactly what happened during early 2017. If this is the case, it is cause for serious concern. It is an indicator that a global tipping point has been reached in that warming at the poles (which is an upshot of the ridiculously high greenhouse gas levels we now see globally) is strong enough to drown out some of the traditional ENSO and PDO signals.

Links:

NASA

NSIDC

Polar Amplification

Pacific Decadal Oscillation

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

The Human World Has Never Experienced A Time When Global Sea Ice Was So Weak and Reduced

Neven — one of the world’s most beloved sea ice trackers — has again taken a break from his much-earned sabbatical to issue yet one more warning on the state of global sea ice.

His report, based on this month’s bombshell National Snow and Ice Data Center statement, can best be described as an urgent call for action on the part of the global community to redouble efforts aimed at reducing the wide-ranging and expanding harms caused by the terrible warming trend we have artificially forced upon our world.

Neven is a kind, honest, and open soul. He is also one of the smartest and decent fellow bloggers I have had the good fortune of encountering in my many travels during my last four years of covering the slow motion global train wreck caused by our widespread and vastly irresponsible burning of fossil fuels. In other words, the man, in my view, has the moral and intellectual authority that many lack. We should listen to him.

Before the World Warmed, This Would Have Been a 1 in 30 Billion Probability Event

For, sadly, on the crucial issue of sea ice, a general muting of the subject has tended to continue despite a jaw-dropping plunge in both the coverage and volume of a substance so crucial to maintaining a stable global climate:

global-sea-ice-extent-stunning-losses

(Global sea ice extent fell off a cliff during December of 2016. The measure has now bounced back a little. But the global average remains significantly below past record lows for this time of year. Loss of so much sea ice can be highly disruptive to the climate system and related atmospheric circulation and precipitation patterns. Image source: NSIDC.)

During December, global sea ice extent coverage fell to an amazing 4.4 million square kilometers below average. This is far, far outside the 2 standard deviation range — passing to fully 8 standard deviations beyond the typical yearly average.

Under past expectations of average, the statistical probability of such an event is approximately 1 in 30 billion. Of course, it’s pretty obvious at this time that a normal, natural variability is not the underlying cause of such a great loss of sea ice. That the warmth we added to the system has now greatly tipped the scales beyond anything representing what would have previously been considered a normal range. A range that since the year 2000 had already tended to dip below average more and more frequently. But one that has never seen so much ice lost.

Unprecedented Losses

This area of sea ice removed — enough to change how the face of our Earth looks from space — is approximately the size of two Greenlands (Note that sea ice loss does not directly contribute to sea level rise. But loss of protective sea ice can contribute to land ice melt — which does add to rates of sea level rise.). And it has been roughly split between the Arctic in the north and the Antarctic in the south.

If sea ice extent losses appear bleak, then sea ice volume losses seem even worse. Sea ice extent is a rough measure of the surface of the world covered by ice excluding gaps behind the leading ice edge. Sea ice volume, however, measures both the ice area — including gaps — and the ice thickness.

giomas-year-global

(Globally, we’ve lost about 1/3 of the total volume of sea ice since the 1980s. 2016’s record fall in the measure coincided with record hot global temperatures and an abnormal period of polar warming that continues on into 2017. Image source: Wipneus.)

Late 2016’s big drop included the approximate removal of 1/3 of the world’s sea ice volume when compared to 1981-2010 averages. In other words, 1/3 of all of the floating portion of the world’s cryosphere beyond the edge of anchored ice shelves had melted away during the period.

Record Global Temperatures as Prime Cause For North and South Pole Sea Ice Melt

In the north, extremely warm temperatures ranging from 2 to up to 7 degrees Celsius above average for the Arctic Ocean region have helped to drive these unprecedented fall and winter sea ice losses. In the south, warmer than normal surface conditions appear to have also helped to drive the amazing coordinate losses there. And overall, 2016 has shown warm to extremely warm conditions for both poles during a year in which global temperatures have spiked to around 1.2 degrees Celsius above 1880s averages.

2016-air-temperature-anomalies-north-and-south-pole

(Extremely strong polar amplification during 2016 is the likely primary contributor to sea ice loss in both the northern and southern polar regions. Image source: NSIDC.)

Under polar amplification — a condition associated with the human-forced warming of our world — scientists expected that the polar regions would tend to warm faster than the rest of the Earth surface. And during 2016, this global warming related condition presented effects writ large.  The damage to sea ice, so far, has been monumental. And these losses have continued into 2017 — even if they are somewhat less below the record low line than during their period of maximum departure this past December.

Albedo Losses and a Bad Set-up for Arctic Summer

Sea ice loss generates its own form of amplifying feedback — in which already prevalent polar warming can worsen further. Less ice coverage means that during summer more of the dark ocean surface is presented to absorb the sun’s rays. This replacement of a white, reflective surface with a dark blue, absorptive one means that still more heat will tend to be trapped in the polar environment. In addition, during winter, less ice cover means that the warmer ocean beneath will tend ventilate more heat and heat-trapping water vapor into the polar atmospheres. And it’s this kind of self-reinforcing cycle that can tend to lock in the dangerous changes like worsening severe weather, worsening heatwaves in the middle and lower latitudes, and the increasing rates of land glacier melt and sea level rise that scientists have been warning about for so long. And it’s this kind of disruptive longer term climate trend that we are being drawn into at this time.

freezing-degree-days-lag-during-freezing-seaons-80-n

(Freezing degree days for the crucial 80 N region have significantly departed into record low ranges. The less freezing degree days, the closer this region is to thawing. Image source: Tealight. Data Source: DMI.)

Nearer term, it appears that the polar heat which has already so greatly damaged the Arctic sea ice is set to stay. Over the next few days, the Arctic appears set to experience a powerful series of low pressure systems running in from the Barents side between Svalbard and Siberia. Neven warns that these storms will tend to push a considerable portion of the remaining thick ice out of the Arctic and through the Fram Strait. Over the next couple of weeks, global forecast models indicate that above freezing temperatures will tend to invade regions now covered by sea ice in Hudson Bay, Baffin Bay, and in the Chukchi Sea. Though the ice is trying to grow, such repeated insults will tend to keep ice coverage in record low ranges.

If this trend of warmth, storms and ice export continues through February, March and April — as it has during October, November, December and January — then the set up for the 2017 melt season would be about the worst we have ever seen. And that would tend to increase the likelihood of new record minimums being reached during September all while hastening the day when the Arctic experiences near ice free conditions. Lets hope that doesn’t happen. But, so far, the trends for the winter of 2016-2017, from pole to pole, have followed along the lines of a near worst case scenario.

Links:

Global Sea Ice Records Broken Again

National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice News

Wipneus Sea Ice Graphs

NASA GISS Temperature Data

Polar Amplification

Tealight

DMI

Hat tip to Suzanne

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Arctic Air Temperatures are Set to Hit 35 to 55 F Above Average by Thursday — Out of Season Sea Ice Melt Possible, Again

“It looks like a triple whammy – a warm ocean, a warm atmosphere, and a wind pattern all working against the ice in the Arctic.”NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

“Unfortunately, Arctic sea ice extent growth has once again slowed this week…”Zack Labe

“Huge surface air temperature anomalies over the Arctic this working week… over 25C warmer than average in parts.” — James Warner

****

This year, it’s a challenge to find a time when the Arctic Ocean has ever represented anything resembling normalcy. Record low sea ice extent values have occurred for more than 50 percent of days measured. And well above average temperatures have invaded the Arctic during winter, spring, and fall. With another huge wave of ridiculous warmth building up over eastern Siberia this week, the hits just keep on coming.

Major Warming Over Siberia, Chukchi and East Siberian Seas 

The present big warm air invasion has its origins in the Pacific Ocean. There, a large high pressure system over the Bering Sea is facing off with a strong low moving up across Kamchatka. Running between the two is a powerful south-to-north wind pattern.

image

(A major warm wind invasion of the Arctic on Thursday is originating in the subtropical Pacific. A ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way to the North Pole is pulling this big bulge of warm air north. As a result, extreme temperature departures and out of season sea ice melt for the impacted zones are likely. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

As we can see in the image above, the flood of warm air has its origin around the 30 north latitude line. It flows directly over hundreds of miles of ocean, at times reaching a storm-force intensity near 70 mph. As it crosses into Siberia, the wind slows down. But it inexorably continues north, ever north — driven on by a serious pulse of atmospheric steam. By early Thursday, the leading edge of this warm air outburst from the Pacific side will have crossed the Pole and led to a flushing of Central Arctic air out into the Barents Sea and North Atlantic (you can view an animation of the predicted warm air pulse here).

This strong northward flood of warmth from the Pacific is running up under an extreme high amplitude wave in the Jet Stream that is bellowing out into the Arctic Ocean through the Bering and Chukchi seas. At its peak northward extent, the big Jet Stream wave is predicted to look something like this. And it is this severe contortion in the upper level wind pattern that has enabled this most recent extreme warm wind event to occur.

This pattern is now in the process of injecting above-freezing air temperatures into Eastern Siberia. By tomorrow, the warm air mass will encounter the coastal regions of the Chukchi and East Siberian seas. There, it will push temperatures as high as 2.5 C  (37 F) over zones that typically see readings in the -20s to -30s (Celsius). As a result, temperatures will range between 20 and 30 C (35 to 55 F) or more above average for many locations.

severe-arctic-warming-again

(Climate Reanalyzer has added a new color — white — for tracking extreme departures in temperature. In the positive anomaly column, we find departures hitting 30 C, or 54 F, above average for regions of East Siberia and the local Arctic Ocean.)

To be clear, these temperatures are highly abnormal. If a similar temperature departure happened in Gaithersburg, Maryland on December 8, it would produce 80 to 100 degree (F) readings. Of course, this anomaly is not happening in Gaithersburg. Due to a global warming related process called polar amplification in which the poles are more sensitive to alterations in rising greenhouse gas levels (due to fossil fuel and related emissions), extreme temperature anomalies tend to occur at the poles as rates of relative warming are 2-3 times faster in those regions. And the factors that we observe associated with this new Arctic warm wind event — powerful south-to-north meridional air flows coupled with extreme high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — are also evidence of a number of weird new atmospheric circulation patterns that can tend to pop up as polar amplification intensifies.

Warm Winds May Cause Unprecedented Back-to-Back Fall Sea Ice Melt

The Pacific side of the Arctic has already been gaining heat ahead of the oncoming warm wind event over the past few days. And what we have seen, as a result, is a pretty severe loss of ice in the Chukchi Sea during early December. To be very clear, Arctic sea ice should be advancing at this time of year. But what we see in the image below (provided by A-Team over at the Arctic Sea Ice Forum) is advance followed by retreat as the warm wind event starts to ramp up.

chukchi-20-nov-06-dec-2016-side-by-side-ice-amsr2-conc-and-smos-thickness

(Ice refreeze in the Chukchi advances until it is rolled back by the most recent onrush of warm air flowing in from the Pacific. Image provided by A-Team at Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice Forum.)

Of course, the retreat seen above has occurred before the main force of warm southerly winds — due to hit the Arctic Ocean region by tomorrow. So the risks for continued losses in the Chukchi extend for at least the next few days. Losses there could be offset by large enough gains elsewhere to continue an overall seasonal freeze trend. But so far, with abnormal warmth also periodically building in over the near-Svalbard region and with Hudson Bay refreeze continuing to lag, that does not appear to be happening.

Looking at the larger monitors, we also find that, as happened during October and November, the pace of overall sea ice growth has stalled. According to JAXA, over the past 4 days, sea ice extent has only grown by 50,000 square kilometers. During a typical similar four day period for this time of year, growth would tend to average around 400,000 to 500,000 square kilometers. And with values at current record low levels, the inertial impetus for ice growth would be higher. That is, unless the climate state of the Arctic has radically changed — which appears to be the case.

arctic-sea-ice-extent

(According to JAXA, Arctic sea ice extent has again hit a plateau when it should be freezing — this time at around 10 million square kilometers. As sea ice follows that line, record lows are again deepening — hitting near 750,000 square kilometers below previous lows for the day in 2006. Considering the fact that another major warming event is building into the Arctic Ocean, this plateau could again tip into melt as happened during the middle of November. Image source: JAXA.)

During mid November, a period of unprecedented warming produced an almost unprecedented period of fall melt. A similar November melt occurred during 2013. But the amount of melt then was smaller. And that melt did not occur at a time when Arctic sea ice values were at new record lows — as they were throughout the entire month during 2016. Similarly, during October, abnormally warm conditions produced an odd re-freeze plateau similar to the one we are now experiencing.

Given current conditions, there’s a risk that we could see a December melt event following the November melt event. For the amount of heat hitting the Pacific side of the Arctic is predicted to fall far outside of normal temperature ranges. And, barring major refreeze on the Atlantic side, we are at a rather higher risk of seeing the present plateau in sea ice values carry on for a number of days.

Links:

The National Snow and Ice Data Center

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

The Arctic Sea Ice Forum

JAXA

Sea Ice Extent Hit Record Lows in November

Dr Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes

Hat tip to John Allen

Hat tip to Neven

Hat tip to A-Team

Hat tip to Ryan in New England

From Pole to Pole, Global Sea Ice Values are Plummeting

During the record hot year of 2016, both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents took a huge hit.

Extreme warmth in the Arctic helped to produce leading losses there. Values that began during January at 1 million square kilometers below average have steadily declined as the months progressed to near 2 million square kilometers below average. Meanwhile, the Antarctic — which began the year at near average sea ice extent values — saw significant losses as the region grew anomalously warm during austral spring. Today, sea ice extent values surrounding the Antarctic are now also just shy of 2 million square kilometers below average.

labe-sea-ice-anomaly-graph

(Zachary Labe, one of the most well-recognized up and coming U.S. climate scientists, has produced this graph based on NSIDC recorded global, Arctic, and Antarctic sea ice values. As you can see, global sea ice extent during the hottest year on record has steadily plummeted to near 4 million square kilometers below average as the months progressed. Image source: Zack Labe’s Sea Ice Figures. Data source: NSIDC. You can also follow Zack’s informative twitter feed here.)

In total, global sea ice coverage is now about 3,865,000 square kilometers below average.

If you think that number sounds really big, it’s because it is. It represents a region of lost ice nearly 40 percent the size of the land and water area of the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii. To visualize it another way, imagine all of the land area of Alaska, California, Texas, Montana, Arizona and New Mexico combined and you begin to get the gist.

Sea Ice Coverage — An Important, But Complex Climate Indicator

Many climate specialists have viewed sea ice as a kind of climate change canary in the coal mine. Sea ice sits upon the warming oceans and beneath a warming atmosphere. And these oceans are now taking up the majority of the heat being trapped in the atmosphere by fossil fuel emissions. Warming ocean surfaces have a higher specific heat value than the air and this greater overall energy capacity in warming regions generates a substantial blow to ice coverage even if the initial water surface temperature swing is only moderate.

Once sea ice is lost for a significant period, a kind of feedback loop comes into play where dark ocean surfaces trap more of the sun’s rays during polar summer than once-white ice coverage — which previously reflected radiation back toward space. This newly absorbed heat is then re-radiated back into the local atmosphere during polar fall and winter — creating an inertial barrier to ice reformation and ultimately generating a big jump in seasonal ocean and atmospheric surface temperatures.

image

(Highly pronounced ocean surface warming coupled with warm air invasions appears to be generating the extreme losses to sea ice now seen in the Arctic. The Barents Sea, shown above, has seen particularly extreme warming. Note the 11 C above average hot spot near the sea ice edge zone. In the Antarctic, the causes of losses remain uncertain. However, atmospheric warming and shifts in the circumpolar winds appear to be producing this effect even as slightly cooler than average surface waters remain in place — possibly due to storm related Southern Ocean upwelling and increasing fresh water outflows from Antarctic glaciers. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

This dynamic is particularly pronounced in the Arctic where a thawing ocean surrounded by warming continents tends to readily collect heat even as atmospheric energy transfers from the south, in the form of warm wind events, have grown more pronounced. An effect related to the climate change influence known as Northern Hemisphere Polar Amplification.

In the Antarctic, the stormy Southern Ocean generates up-welling. This dynamic tends to cool the ocean surface even as it transfers heat into the deeper ocean. And increasing stormy conditions surrounding Antarctica related to climate change can intensify this effect. In addition, warm bottom waters melting sea-fronting glaciers in Antarctica produce a lens of fresh water which cools the surface and also traps heat below. So the signal coming from Antarctica with regards to sea ice has tended to be more mixed — with atmospheric warming and changes in wind patterns generating more variable sea ice impacts relative to the Arctic. So this year’s sea ice losses there are more difficult to directly link to climate change even though climate change related influences on the physical system in the Antarctic and among its surrounding waters are becoming more and more apparent.

Zack Labe notes that:

The Arctic sea ice anomaly, however, fits with the ongoing Arctic amplification trend of thinning sea ice and loss of old ice. Additionally, it has been well noted in previous literature (i.e., ) concerning the increasing fall temperatures in the Arctic and possible causes.

Major Volume Losses From 2015 to 2016

Despite big losses to sea ice surrounding the Antarctic this fall, it is the Arctic where the damage and risk of further loss is most pronounced. Particularly, reductions to thicker, multi-year ice in the Arctic during 2015 to 2016 have been exceptionally severe:

image image

In the above images, we see a comparison between late November sea ice coverage and thickness as provided by the U.S. Navy ARCc model. The left frame represents late November of 2015 and the right frame represents projected values for November 20, 2016. Note the greatly reduced coverage in the 2016 image. But even more noteworthy is the substantial loss of thicker ice in the Arctic Ocean north of the Canadian Archipelago and Greenland.

These two images tell a tale of a great loss of sea ice volume. One that the sea ice monitor PIOMAS confirms. According to PIOMAS, ice volume values during October were tracking near lowest levels ever recorded. And continued heat into November generates a concern that a period of new record low volume levels may be on the way.

But it’s not just the record low values that should be a concern. It’s the location of the remaining thick ice that’s a worry as well. For a substantial portion of the remaining thick ice is situated near the Fram Strait. Wind and ocean currents tend to push ice out of the Arctic Ocean and through the Fram. Ice tends to then be funneled down along the coast of Greenland and on into the North Atlantic where it melts. So the fact that a big chunk of the already greatly reduced remaining thick ice now sits on the edge of the sea ice version of Niagra Falls is not a good sign.

La Nina Years Tend to Push More Heat Toward the Poles

It is notoriously difficult to accurately forecast sea ice melt and refreeze trends in the various seasonal measures for any given individual year. And even many of the top sea ice experts have had a devil of a time forecasting the behavior of sea ice during recent years. However, one thing remains quite clear — the long term trend for sea ice in the Arctic is one of rapid decline.

arctic-sea-ice-death-spiral

(Arctic sea ice ‘Death Spiral’ by Andy Lee Robinson. Image source: Haveland.)

We are now entering a situation where one very warm winter followed by one warmer than normal summer could push Arctic sea ice values to near the zero mark. A situation that could effectively set off a blue ocean event in the near future. A number of prominent sea ice experts have predicted that it’s likely that such a state will be achieved rather soon — by the early 2030s under current trends. Others point toward nearer-term loss potentials. But there is practically no-one now saying, as was often stated during the early 2010s, that a blue ocean event could hold off until the early 2050s.

All that said, the trajectory going into 2017 for the Arctic at present doesn’t look very good. Both sea ice extent and volume are now at or well below the previous low marks for this time of year. Remaining thick ice positioned near the Fram Strait generates a physical disadvantage to the ice in general. In addition, NOAA has announced that La Nina conditions are now present in the Equatorial Pacific. And La Nina events tend to push more ocean and atmospheric heat toward the poles — particularly toward the Arctic.

Links/Notes/Disclaimer:

Note: This article is written as a follow-on to the previous blog post — For The Arctic Ocean Above 80 North, It’s Still Summer in November — and they should be read together for context.

Disclaimer: I asked PhD student Zachary Labe to make a general comment on sea ice trends, to which he generously provided his particular take on the Arctic. I have also made my own best-shot science and observation-based analysis of the situation given current trends. Because of the fact that the present situation is new and evolving, some of my statements may well pass outside the bounds of currently accepted science. The fact that Labe commented in this post does not, in this case, mean that he agrees fully or in part with my particular initial rough analysis of the subject.

Zack Labe’s Sea Ice Figures

NSIDC

Permafrost and Arctic Sea Ice — Climate Canaries in the Coal Mine

Increasing Fall-Winter Energy Loss From the Arctic Ocean and its Role in Arctic Temperature Amplification

Earth Nullschool

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

PIOMAS

U.S. Navy ARCc Model Sea Ice Thickness

Haveland

NOAA

Hat tip to Andy Lee Robinson

Hat tip to Cate

For The Arctic Ocean Above 80 North, It’s Still Summer in November

It’s going to be the hottest year on record — by a long shot. Just ask Gavin Schmidt at a NASA that the climate change denying Trump Administration has now imperiled. But in one region — the Arctic — the rate of heat accumulation has been outrageously extreme. And it is there that this new record warmth could inflict some of the worst damage to an increasingly fragile Earth System.

Summer Heat During Fall Above 80 North

For in the Arctic Ocean above the 80 degree north latitude line which encircles the crest of our world, temperatures today are around 17 degrees Celsius above average. These are the warmest temperatures for this region ever recorded. And they include numerous locations in which temperatures spike to well above 20 C (36 F) warmer than average.

meant_2016

(Temperatures above the 80 degree north latitude line during mid November are about equal to what you would typically expect for late summer. This record warmth in the Arctic is notably severe and could produce serious near term climate and weather impacts. Image source: DMI.)

Taken in total, this region — one that includes the North Pole — is currently experiencing temperatures that it would typically see from September 15 through 21. In other words, it’s about as warm now, on November 14th, in the zone surrounding the North Pole as it typically is during the last week of summer.

It wouldn’t be quite so bad if temperatures had simply rocketed to new highs on this particular day as part of a wild temperature swing. Unfortunately, readings instead have remained consistently high throughout autumn. They have levitated off the baseline 1958-2002 average range for the better part of 80 days. And as temperatures maintained near late summer or early fall averages, the departure from normal (represented by the green line in the graph above) has continued to intensify throughout November. Such long-term maintenance of high temperatures risks producing some severe lasting impacts on both the Arctic and the global environment.

The North Pole’s Big Red Hole

The temperature range we see now is nothing less than astonishing and, to this particular observer, terrifying. A huge hole has been blown in the heart of what should be the building cold of winter. And if it doesn’t reform soon, it will have some serious knock-on climate effects to include worsening atmospheric circulation changes, related increasingly extreme weather, impacts to growing seasons, impacts to sea ice, impacts to Greenland ice, and impacts to life in the Arctic and beyond.

sections-of-arctic-ocean-warm-enough-to-melt-in-late-fall

(Today, large swaths of the Arctic Ocean are expected to see temperatures hit 20 C [36 F] + warmer than normal. These temperatures are so high that recently ice-covered sections will, over the next five days, experience temperatures between -2 C and 0 C — or warm enough to produce temporary melt. Such a condition has never been witnessed to the extent that it is now so late in the year. A clear sign that global warming is starting to bite deeper than we had hoped. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer. Note — the map shows temperature departures above [red shift] and below [blue shift] the, already warmer than normal, 1979-2000 baseline average.)

This record fall warmth appears to be part of an ever-more-pervasive ‘death of winter’ type scenario related to human-caused global warming. And unless temperatures in the Arctic revert back toward base-line pretty soon, we are at increasing risk of hitting some state-change tipping points. In particular, these center around a nearer term loss of Arctic Ocean ice than expected. An event that could happen this year if we experience an anomalously warm winter followed by a similarly warm summer — but one that many experts expect to hold off until the 2030s. An alteration that, longer term, under the continued fossil fuel burning presently promoted by the Trump Administration, basically removes winter as a season pretty much altogether (at least as we know it).

I sincerely hope that we see a return to baseline temperature conditions in the Arctic soon. But as the days roll by, this seems less and less likely. Warm winds keep flowing in both from the Barents and the Bering. And the centers of coldest Northern Hemisphere regions are well displaced toward Siberia and Greenland. If this situation continues, implications for summer sea ice during 2017 could be pretty rough (more on this in the follow-on post). And it’s at the point where we hit ice-free summer states in the Arctic Ocean that some very radical regional, hemispheric, and global changes (which produce even worse effects than some of the bad outcomes we’ve already seen) will be well underway.

Links:

Climate of Gavin

Cires1 80 North Temperature Anomaly

DMI

Jennifer Francis on Jet Stream Changes due to Sea Ice Loss

Climate Reanalyzer

The Trump Administration’s Anti-Climate, Pro-Fossil Fuels Agenda

From the Bering to Maine Hot Oceans are Killing the Puffin

(UPDATED)

There’s a La Nina Developing — So Why is the World Still Heating Up?

Long term, there’s no doubt what’s in control of the world’s temperature trend. The vast belching of greenhouse gasses by fossil fuel industry and related non-renewable based machinery has caused atmospheric carbon levels to hit 405 ppm CO2 and 490 ppm CO2e this year. All this added carbon has caused the world to warm by a record 1.22 C since 1880s levels during 2016 (approx). But superimposed over this long term warming trend is the natural variability based ebb and flow of atmospheric and surface ocean heat that is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

ENSO — A Wave Pattern Overlying the Long Term Warming Trend

Think of it as a smaller wave pattern that overlaps the current global upswing in temperatures. As El Nino builds and comes into the fore, natural forcings caused by periodic ocean surface warming in the Equatorial Pacific push global temperatures higher. This tends to add to the human forced global warming trend. So, often, El Nino years are also record warm years.

global-temperatures-enso

(El Nino to La Nina temperature variations create a wavy pattern in the overall global warming trend. Note — the record warm year of 2016 is not included in this graph. Image source: NOAA.)

Conversely, La Nina, which generates a periodic cooling in the Equatorial Pacific tends to pull a bit against the long term warming trend. So periods of La Nina tend to show average global atmospheric temperatures in the annual measure drop off by about 0.2 to 0.4 C from the peak periods of atmospheric heating during El Nino. Of course, since the ENSO variability typically follows a range of +0.2 C to -0.2 C but does not affect long term temperature trends, it only takes about a decade for La Nina years to be about as warm as recent El Nino years.

Slight Warming During Fall of 2016 Despite La Nina

During fall of 2015 and the winter and spring of 2016 a powerful El Nino helped to push global surface temperatures into new record high ranges. This happened because greenhouse gasses the world over had been loading heat into the Earth System for some time and the strong El Nino served as a kind of trip wire that opened the flood gates for a surge of atmospheric heat. Which is why 2016 will be about 1.22 C hotter than 1880s temperatures (1 C hotter than NASA 20th Century baseline temps) and why the years from 2011 to 2016 will average above 1 C hotter than 1880s values overall (0.8 C hotter than 20th Century baselines).

But now, with the 2016 El Nino in the rear view mirror and with a La Nina forming in the Pacific, we would expect global temperatures to cool down somewhat. For the most part, this has happened. Back in January and February, monthly average temperatures were as much as 1.5 C above 1880s averages. Since summer, the averages have dipped to around 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s values.

gfs_anomaly_timeseries_global

(Global temperatures bottomed out at around 1 C above 1880s or 0.4 C above the 1981 to 2010 average in this GFS based graph by Karsten Haustein during June then began to slowly climb through fall even as a weak La Nina began to develope.)

With La Nina continuing to form, we would expect these monthly values to continue to fall for a bit as La Nina strengthened. But that doesn’t appear to be happening. Instead, global atmospheric temperatures bottomed out at around 1 to 1.1 C above 1880s levels in June, July, August and September and now they appear to be rebounding.

Polar Amplification Signal Shows Up as a Blip in the Global Measure

In other words, we see a rise in the global temperature trend when we should see a steady counter-trend decline forced by natural variability.

Why is this happening?

The climate evidence points to a rather obvious set of suspects. First, the long term Pacific Decadal Oscillation value has continued to push into the positive range. And this state would tend to favor more heat radiating back into the atmosphere from the ocean surface.

However, if you look at the global climate maps, the major anomaly drivers are not coming from the Pacific, but from the poles. For this fall saw extreme warming both in the northern and southern polar regions of the world. Today, temperature anomalies in both the Arctic and the Antarctic were 5.84 and 4.19 C above average respectively. A rough average between the two poles of +5 C for these high latitude regions. As we’ve mentioned many times before, such severe warming is an obvious signal of climate change based polar amplification where temperatures at the poles warm faster relative to the rest of the Earth during the first phase of greenhouse gas forced warming.

extreme-polar-amplification-november-4

(Extreme warming of the polar regions continued on November 4 of 2016. This warming is pushing against the La Nina trend which would tend to cool the world temporarily. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

By themselves, these abnormally high temperatures at the poles would be odd enough. But when taking into account that La Nina should still be cooling the globe off, it starts to look like this severe polar warming has jostled the La Nina cooling signal a bit — turning it back toward warming by late fall. And if that is what’s really happening, then it would imply that the natural variability signal that is produced by ENSO is starting to be over-ridden by polar amplification based influences. In other words, there appears to be another signal that’s starting to intrude as a polar amplification based temperature spike.

It’s something that has popped up from time to time as a blip in the observational data over the past few years. But fall of 2016 provides one of the stronger signals so far. And it’s a signal related to a set of feedbacks that have the potential to affect the overall pace of planetary warming. Something to definitely keep an eye on.

Links:

NOAA

Karsten Haustein

Climate Reanalyzer

NOAA El Nino

Hat tip to June

Hat tip to ClimateHawk1

Hat tip to JCH

Drifting into Arctic Un-Winter

Many call it global weirding. But weird just barely describes what’s happening in the Arctic right now. To the consternation of some, I’ve warned that the process we are now witnessing is the start to a kind of death of winter that will assuredly happen if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels soon. But we could just as well call it un-winter. Or de-wintering. Whatever you want to name it, and regardless of whether your initial inclination is to downplay it or to shout it from the hills, what’s happening in the Arctic right now is unprecedented and more than a little scary.

Sea Ice Loss as Start of Arctic De-Wintering

The Arctic Ocean has lost a great deal of its ice coverage during summer over recent years. Darker oceans reflect less of the sun’s rays. And more heat gets transferred to the water’s surface. As summer transitions into fall, this added energy loading creates a latent heat barrier to ice refreeze. Without its traditional ice coverage, the ocean then ventilates this heat into the Arctic environment — keeping air temperatures abnormally warm, increasing water vapor content, and thickening the Arctic atmosphere.

Over recent years, this process has generated the powerful winter warming that we call polar amplification. It has disrupted the Jet Stream and contributed to other changes to global weather patterns. But fall of 2016 has so far seen some of the worst instances of this climate change related heating of the world’s frozen regions.

Current Arctic Heat is Unprecedented

arctic-temperature-anomaly-november-2-2016

(Temperature departures for the entire Arctic have exceeded 6 C above average for three out of the past four days. The delay of the usual fall progression of cooling toward winter is a month or more behind schedule for this region of our world. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Today, the temperature above the Arctic Circle is averaging 6.21 degrees Celsius above average. Large local areas are seeing temperatures in the range of 15 to 20 degrees Celsius above average with locally higher peaks. Beyond the 80 degree north latitude line, temperatures are currently about 12 degrees Celsius above average. The result is that most places in the Arctic are about 25 to 40 days behind the average cooling trend line and that temperatures are more reminiscent of late September or early October than early November.

Sea Ice Record Lows Are Likewise Extreme

Not only is the added ocean heat pumping season-wrenching warmth into the Arctic atmosphere, it is also generating a self-reinforcing feedback loop with record low sea ice departures that have been worsening with each passing day. According to JAXA, current Arctic Ocean sea ice extents are now 710,000 square kilometers below the previous record low set in 2012. That’s an area larger than the state of Texas. But when you compare this new record low to averages seen in the 1980s, a region the size of Texas, Alaska, and California combined have been lost.

jaxa-sea-ice

(Arctic sea ice extents of 7.03 million square kilometers on November 1 of 2016 are about equal to end summer sea ice minimums during the 1990s. So much open ocean is having a dramatic warming effect on the Arctic atmosphere during the Fall of 2016. Image source: JAXA.)

All that naked ocean dumping heat into the atmosphere is having a marked effect. One that is producing these extreme temperatures even as it generates a self-sustaining cycle that prevents refreeze.

Over recent days, the heat in the Arctic has created a situation where ocean refreeze rates have essentially moved sideways on the graph. This has created a well-earned hubub by weather and Arctic experts across the net. Bob Hensen at WeatherUnderground recently tweeted: ‘the Arctic Ocean appears to have forgotten it’s supposed to be refreezing right now.‘ To which PHD student Zack Labe responded: ‘it’s crazy… the daily data shows the recent flat line.‘ Meanwhile, the Arctic Sea Ice forum has basically gone nuts over the very odd behavior of sea ice this fall.

Will it Continue? ENSO Adding to the Heat Transfer Bias

How long this vicious tug of war will continue to last is anyone’s guess. It ultimately boils down to how much heat the Arctic Ocean has taken in and how much energy is still being transferred in that direction. With La Nina forming in the Pacific, ocean and atmospheric heat transfer toward the Arctic would tend to ramp up. And we may well be seeing a kind of teleconnection type handshake between polar amplification and the ENSO cycle now.

To this point it’s worth noting that the most recent big heat pulse in the Arctic started with the powerful 2015-2016 El Nino. And this traditional natural variability related heat transfer is likely to continue to push the scales for Arctic heat content through 2017 and possibly into 2018. The question in this case is whether or not climate change related warming is being enabled by this periodic flux to hit a new tipping point. And from the perspective of this fall, things don’t look very good for the Arctic.

Links:

National Snow and Ice Data Center

Polar Amplification

On the Atmospheric Response to a Blue Arctic Ocean

Climate Reanalyzer

DMI

JAXA

Death of Winter

Scientific hat tip to Dr Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Global Warming is Winning the Battle Against Arctic Sea Ice — Extent Drops to New Record Lows

Ever since human-forced climate change started to kick off dramatically worsening polar warming events in the 2000s, the Arctic has struggled to cool down to normal temperatures during fall and winter. However, for 2016, this failure of Arctic cooling appears to have grown even more pronounced.

Over the past few weeks, temperature anomalies for the entire region north of the 66th parallel have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above average. These are very extreme departures — ones we typically have only seen during winter when the poleward heat energy transfer effects of human-caused climate change are at their strongest. But this fall, high local ocean temperatures have combined with a north-bound flood of warmth to turn the Arctic into a glaring global hot spot — featuring the highest above normal temperature readings for any region of the Earth.

New Record Daily Lows for Arctic Sea Ice

So much added heat has had a marked effect on sea ice. Last week, Arctic sea ice again dipped into record low ranges. Edging sideways away from the usual rapid refreeze trend line, by today these record low readings have become rather prominent in measures like those produced by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

nsidc-sea-ice-record-low-october-24

(On October 23rd, 2016, Arctic sea ice hit a new record daily low extent of 6,434,000 square kilometers [pink line]. This beat out 2007’s previous record of 6,501,000 square kilometers [blue line] and is now trailing 2012’s October 23 measure of 6,785,000 square kilometers [dashed green line] by a substantial margin. 2016’s record low readings are now about 3 million square kilometers below same day readings for October 23 of 1981 [light orange line at top]. In other words, an area of sea ice approximately the size of one and a half Greenlands has disappeared over the intervening 35 year period.  Image source: NSIDC.)

As a result, sea ice extents are today ranging fully 3 million square kilometers below levels seen during the early 1980s. In other words, an area approximately one and one half times the size of Greenland has been lost over the last 35 years.

Arctic Temperature Anomalies to Worsen over the Coming Week

The anomalous heat build-up in the Arctic pushing sea ice levels to new all-time record low daily ranges is, unfortunately, expected to worsen over the coming week. Today’s beyond-normal temperature departures of around 4.35 degrees Celsius above average are predicted by GFS models to rise to around 6.45 C above average by Sunday.

These high temperature readings are expected to concentrate in regions near the sea ice edge. And so much heat focusing exactly in the region where sea ice is attempting to expand risks a continued lagging of seasonal ice accumulation. 15-20 C above average temperatures are predicted to stretch from the Beaufort through the Chukchi, into the East Siberian Sea, on through the Kara, down along the Northern Edge of the Barents and into an Arctic Ocean zone just north of Greenland.

global-warmings-heat-battles-sea-ice

(We’re currently witnessing a level of heat transfer into the Arctic that is probably unprecedented. So much heat heading north and building up at the pole due to local and global greenhouse gas buildup, ocean warming, loss of summer reflectivity, and increasingly powerful atmospheric gravity waves is now pushing Arctic sea ice into record low daily ranges. As October shifts toward November, this Arctic heat is likely to begin to produce some severe late fall and early winter weather conditions. In the above map, we begin to see a signature hot west, cool east dipole over the US. During past years, polar amplification has helped to generate this extreme weather pattern in the US where heat and drought is prevalent in the west while severe winter weather dominates the east. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

You can see these extraordinary predicted temperature anomalies in the form of a spiky red swirl surrounding the Central Arctic in the GFS temperature anomaly map provided by Climate Reanalyzer above. So much heat at the ice edge reveals a big battle taking place between powerful oceanic and atmospheric heat transfers into the Arctic and a seasonal sea ice expansion that is fading in the face of a human-forced warming of the world.

Links:

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

NASA GISS

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

NOAA NCEP Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies

Scientific Hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Leslie Graham

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Arctic Sea Ice Falls into Record Low Ranges — Again

Extreme Arctic warmth this fall has again pushed sea ice levels into record low ranges.

Across the Arctic, temperatures for the months of September and October have ranged between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius above normal for the entire region above the 66 degree north latitude line. Such extremely high temperatures have served to slow the rate of sea ice accumulation. The result is that the line in the sea ice graphs appears to be moving more sideways than following the traditional upward trend for this time of year.

arctic-sea-ice-nsidc

(2016 enters near record low extent ranges on October 17 of 2016. Green dashed line represents 2012 sea ice extent, blue line represents 2007, black line the 1981 to 2010 average, orange line 2003, blue line 1994, and yellow line 1980. The gray border represents the 2 standard deviation from trend boundary. Image source: NSIDC.)

Trend lines for 2016 are also now within 90,000 square kilometers of exceeding previous record lows for sea ice extent set in 2007 and nearly matched in 2012 for the date of October 17.

Big Arctic Temperature Spike Driving Losses

Over the next few days, GFS model runs predict that a strong warming trend will take hold over the Arctic Ocean environment. As a result, temperature anomalies for the region above 66 North are expected to again spike to near 5 C above average for this time of year.

Given this predicted heat build-up, it’s certainly possible that refreeze rates will continue to be inhibited and that new record daily lows will be breached this week. Meanwhile, the overall trend for 2016 from January through middle October shows a year that is likely to see the lowest averaged levels of sea ice ever recorded for an entire year.

arctic-heat

(Arctic temperatures have remained high throughout the fall — which has contributed to a very slow sea ice re-freeze so far. By Sunday, GFS model runs predict that temperatures over the Arctic Ocean will again push into much warmer than normal ranges for this time of year — possibly further delaying this region’s return to an ice-covered state. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

Polar Amplification in Evidence

Loss of sea ice is a primary feature of polar amplification in the Arctic due to human-forced climate change.  Under polar amplification, warming of this region occurs faster than in the rest of the world. During summer, lower sea ice levels allow more sunlight to be absorbed by dark ocean waters — which preferentially traps heat in the Arctic environment. Less ice coverage during winter allows ocean heat to re-radiate into the Arctic which provides a significant boost to temperatures during the cold season.

mean-t-dmi-arctic-warmth-anomalous

(Anomalously warm temperatures over the Arctic Ocean have represented more a strange hybrid between fall and summer than a typical drop-off toward winter patterns during 2016. In the graph above, global warming appears to have basically levitated temperatures in the region above 80 North right off the chart. Image source: DMI.)

Last year, a never-before-seen late December warming of the Arctic pushed temperatures at the North Pole above freezing. If human fossil fuel burning continues and greenhouse gas accumulations in the Earth’s atmosphere keep rising, the Arctic is in for more dramatic fall, winter, and spring warming events than even those it is experiencing today. And with global temperatures entering a range of 1-2 C above preindustrial averages, the risk of a complete loss of Arctic sea ice over the coming years is on the rise.

Links:

NSIDC

Climate Reanalyzer

The Sydney Morning Herald

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Marcel Guldemond

Abnormal Fall Arctic Warmth Intensifies; September 2016 Probably Another Record Hot Month Globally

Polar amplification” usually refers to greater climate change near the pole compared to the rest of the hemisphere or globe in response to a change in global climate forcing, such as the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs)… RealClimate [emphasis added]

*****

It’s fall. The Arctic is trying to cool down, but what would typically be a steady decline into frigid temperatures is being held back by the increasingly strong hand of human-forced climate change.

warm-fall-for-region-above-80-degrees-north-latitude

(Over recent weeks, temperature departures above the 1958-to-2002 average line [green line above] have grown in the region north of the 80th parallel. In general, the Arctic has experienced much warmer than normal temperatures. Failure of the Arctic to rapidly cool down during fall has been a feature of recent years that is related to human-forced climate change. Image source: DMI.)

Over the past month, temperature anomalies for the entire Arctic have ranged near 3 degrees Celsius or more above average. These temperatures appear to have represented the highest departures from average for any world region for the past month. Overall, they’ve greatly contributed to what is likely to be another record hot month globally.

Into the first week of October, this trend is expected to intensify. By Friday, according to GFS model runs, temperatures above the 66° North Latitude line are expected to range near 4.5 C (8 degrees Fahrenheit) above average for the entire region. Meanwhile, areas of Greenland, the Arctic Ocean and Northeastern Siberia are expected to see 10-18 C (18 to 32 F) above-average temperature departures for the day.

arctic-heat-forecast-gfs

(Extreme Arctic heat is likely to lead record-high global temperatures for the month of September. Such heat is also likely to help push October into top 3 record-hot month ranges. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

It doesn’t need to be said that these are extraordinary warm temperature departures from normal, which represent near-record or record warm ranges for many locations, but this is what we would expect with human-forced climate change. As the sun falls in the Arctic sky and night lengthens, energy transfer in the form of heat coming in from the warming ocean and atmosphere intensifies. This effect is driven by what is now a great overburden of greenhouse gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Early Indicators Point Toward a Record-Hot September

Powerful heat transfers slowing down the rate of fall cooling in the Arctic came amid what is likely to be the hottest September in the global climate record. Australian scientist Nick Stokes found that September temperature departures were about 0.05 C higher than August’s record temperature departures. Translated to NASA GISS figures, if they were to match this increase, September values would fall around 1.03 C hotter than NASA’s 20th-century baseline and about 1.25 C hotter than 1880s averages.

warmest-august-in-136-years

(August 2016 was the hottest month on Earth in all of the past 136 years. Though the Earth is cooling into fall, September 2016 looks like it will be the hottest September ever recorded. Overall, 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record by a significant margin. Image source: Earth Observatory.)

Temperatures in these ranges would represent the hottest September on record by a pretty big margin (about 0.13 C globally). Meanwhile, the annual averages for the first nine months of the year would hit near 1.27 C above 1880s averages if the NASA measure saw a warming similar to that showing up in Stokes’s early NCEP/NCAR reanalysis figures — a measure disturbingly close to the 1.5 C departure levels that represent the first major global climate threshold, a level that many scientists have advised us we’d be wise to avoid.

Links:

RealClimate

Reanalysis Index Up 0.047 C in September

DMI

Climate Reanalyzer

Earth Observatory

Approaching the First Climate Tipping Point — On Track to Hit 1.5 C Before 2035

July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded. That record lasted for all of one month as global temperatures remained at record-high levels through August, resulting in a tie with July during a period when the Earth typically cools.

Given natural variability, we might expect August to remain hot if an El Nino were forming in the Pacific, but at that time, with a weak La Nina struggling to fire off, the exact opposite was the case. In other words, the El Nino/La Nina cycle, which typically helps to drive global warm and cool periods, was pointed in the direction of ‘cool’, but the world remained near record-hot levels.

global-temperatures-through-august-of-2016

(2016 Climate Year continues to redefine global temperature boundaries as August ties July for hottest month ever recorded. Image source: NASA GISS.)

So what the heck was going on?

Rising Greenhouse Gasses are Steadily Rearranging How the Earth Balances Heat

We can’t answer this question without looking at the amazing overburden of greenhouse gasses that are trapping an enormous amount of heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean. Due to decades of rampant fossil-fuel burning, 2016 will likely average around 404 parts per million CO2, which is the Earth’s primary heat-trapping gas that drives global climate. The last time levels of this gas were so high, more than 3 million years ago, the Earth was 2 to 3 degrees Celsius hotter than 1880s averages, seas were 25 to 75 feet higher, and the Earth was a remarkably different place.

CO2 isn’t the only gas adding heat-forcing to the Earth’s atmosphere. Human-emitted methane and other chemical compounds now add together with CO2 to produce a total CO2-equivalent forcing near 490 ppm. If this measure in any way remotely correlates to past climate forcings, then the Earth could well be on a path toward Middle Miocene climates that were around 4 C hotter than 1880s values.

Greenhouse Gas Accumulation Causes the Poles to Warm Faster than the Rest of the World

The way this extra heat — due to greenhouse gas forcing — emerges in the atmosphere is not even. In fact, science has long indicated that the poles warm faster than the rest of the world as the greenhouse gas overburden increases due to global burning of fossil fuels. Ever since the 1990s (and probably before), global climate models have shown that adding CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to the Earth’s climate system preferentially warms the far north and the far south.

This effect is due to the fact that greenhouse gasses more effectively trap and re-radiate the sun’s heat during periods of darkness. The long dark of polar night, lasting for the many months of polar winter, presents a period in which greenhouse gas warming has the opportunity to go into overdrive. In addition, oceans preferentially transfer heat toward the poles. Meanwhile, the melting of heat-reflecting ice coverage traps more heat in the local polar oceans (primarily in the Arctic) even as local carbon stores are increasingly vulnerable to release due to thaw. The result is that the polar regions of the world generate various amplifying feedbacks to the preferential heat forcing already in play. This can drive some big changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, which pull heat up from tropical regions and dump it over the frozen parts of our world.

Ridiculous Antarctic Warmth during Southern Hemisphere Winter

Coming back to El Nino and La Nina, it goes to reason that if the poles warm enough relative to the rest of the climate system, then such a global warming-related polar warm-up might eventually start to warp natural variability to the point that peak warming periods push a bit beyond the typical cycling.

antarctic-heat

(Polar amplification hit high gear during August as Southern Hemisphere winter saw extreme Antarctic warming. Image source: NASA GISS.)

This appears to have been the case during August 2016. As the Equator cooled, Antarctica warmed to a rather extreme degree. Though most of the globe saw above-average temperatures, the highest extreme anomalies were centered over Antarctica. There, the entire region above 75° South Latitude experienced temperatures greater than 3 C above average and a large region saw temperatures striking between 4 to 5.9 C above average for the entire month.

This heat came on the back of numerous high amplitude Jet Stream waves that delivered heat to the polar region during the Southern Hemisphere winter month of August. These waves, which have become a signature feature of Northern Hemisphere winter during recent years, bear with them the trappings of equator-to-pole energy transfer, a new climate effect playing havoc with traditional seasonal variability and possibly messing with some of the most well-established seasonal climate markers (such as the equatorially emerging quasi-biennial oscillation).

abnormal-august-heat

(No latitudinal zones saw below-average temperatures in August of 2016, another rather disturbing feature of this record-hot month. Image source: NASA GISS.)

As the South Pole saw repeated warm-air deliveries from the tropics, the Equatorial Pacific experienced only moderate negative departures below normal, a sign that the emerging La Nina was starting to splutter.

Overall, no latitudinal zone experienced below-average temperatures — another odd marker as the Southern Ocean (which pulls in an enormous amount of the Earth’s rising heat) tends to show below-normal departures in the region of 50° to 60° South Latitude.

We Appear to be on Track to Hit Above 1.5 C Within 15-25 Years

In total, global temperatures, according to NASA, hit 1.2 C above 1880s averages in the NASA measure (or about 0.98 C above NASA’s 20th-century baseline average). As a result, the first nine months of the December-to-November climate year are now averaging around 1.28 C above 1880s levels. And since the last three months of the year are unlikely to average below 1.05 C above 1880s, it appears that a 1.2 C departure or higher is now a lock for 2016.

With so much polar heat in place (this time shifting to the Arctic during September), it appears at least somewhat likely that the final three months for this climate year will tend to average closer to 1.05 to 1.20 C above 1880s averages. Consecutive months in this range or higher would push end-2016 values closer to 1.21 to 1.24 C above 1880s values. Notably, this is a range about 0.4 C higher than 1998 average temperatures. A similar period of warming occurring over the next 18 years would result in a year in which global temperatures exceeded 1.6 C above 1880s levels before 2035.

With global civilization continuing to burn massive volumes of fossil fuels and spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at a record rate, and with global temperatures so high, we are nearing a time when the first major climate threshold of 1.5 C (dangerous warming) is likely to be breached. Under current rates of fossil-fuel burning, this crossing will likely occur within the next 15 to 25 years. We know this because the Earth is now experiencing a rapid warming (0.15 to 0.2 C per decade), the likes of which has never been seen in human reckoning, and may have never been seen at all during any time of its deep past. It really all is, quite frankly, terrifying.

Links:

NASA GISS

NOAA El Nino

August Ties With July as Hottest Month on Record

An Unexpected Disruption of the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation

Pliocene Climate

Miocene Climate

Gigantic Gravity Waves to Mix Summer With Winter?

Scientific hat tip to Gavin Schmidt

Fahrenheit 85.9 Near Arctic Ocean Shores — Extreme Heatwave Settles in Over North-Central Siberia, Canada’s Northern Tier

70.8 North, 69.2 East. It’s the Lat, Long coordinate location of a section of the Yamal Peninsula in Siberian Russia. A typically chilly region of frozen but now thawing ground more than 4 degrees of Latitude north of the Arctic Circle. A place that saw the appearance of odd, disturbing (and now controversial) methane blowholes pockmarking the melting permafrost during 2014. Today, the high temperature in a land now being forced to rapidly warm by human-caused climate change spiked to a tropical 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.4 C) at 0800 UTC. Tomorrow, temperatures are expected to again rise to 80 F (26.5 C). And in the same location on Thursday, the mercury is forecast to strike close to 86 F (30 C).

Across the Arctic Ocean at Latitude 71.4 North and Longitude 111.7 West, Canada’s Victoria Island is today also seeing temperatures spike to near 80 F (26.8 C). It’s a place encircled by sounds of wet crackling and fluid sighs. The mournful songs of melting sea ice. A sad threnody for the end of a much more stable and hospitable climate age. And there, and even further north to Banks Island, readings are expected to range from 80 to 82 F (26.7 to 27.7 C) on Wednesday and into Thursday.

GFS Five Day Average

(Extreme heat wave predicted to build over the Arctic during the next five days as indicated by daily maximum temperatures forecast for the next five days shown above. Image source: Climate Reanalyzer.)

The heatwave in Northern Siberia comes on the back of new record high temperatures of 93 F (33.8 C) being reached in Buryatia on July 1 amidst record thunderstorm-induced downpours. The heat has since built northward along an extended ridge stretching over Central Asia and has now compromised a large section of the Arctic Circle zone.

On the Canadian side, the odd warmth comes in the form of a weird Northern heat island. The heat near the Canadian Archipelago is surrounded by cooler regions north, south, east and west. The result of a heat dome high pressure ridge building in over this far Northern region during the coming week.

Weather monitors like the Global Forecast System model show that both of these regions are in for some very severe Arctic heat over the next five days. High temperatures in the range of 80 to 86 F (26 to 30 C) are about 27 to 36 degrees Fahrenheit above average (15 to 20 C).  Temperatures that will basically match those in Central America (8.3 N, 77.9 W) during the same time period. In other words, for these days and these regions, Arctic temperatures will roughly match tropical Equatorial temperatures.

Conditions in Context — 408 ppm CO2, 490 ppm CO2e is Forcing the Arctic to Warm Faster Than Lower Latitudes

This most recent Arctic heatwave occurs in a climate context that, taking into account for 408 ppm CO2 alone will likely result in 1-2 C of additional global warming (on top of current approximate 1 C warming since 1880s) over the long term. Meanwhile, total CO2e (including methane and other greenhouse gasses) measures of about 490 ppm imply 1.5 to 3 C of additional warming long term (on top of 1 C current) even if the present total greenhouse gas forcing is only maintained (not added to by human beings or the Earth System).

These are global averages. But all that extra heat forcing is causing the world to warm unevenly. As of 2009, the Arctic was warming up at a pace more than two times faster than the rest of the globe. And in the 40 year period from 1971 through 2011 NASA found that the Arctic had warmed about 3.55 degrees Fahrenheit while the rest of the world had warmed by 1.44 F. But that was before the big global heat spike during 2015 and 2016 further disproportionately heated the Arctic — pushing it into new record hot temperature ranges. In the end, it appears that the Arctic will eventually warm by about 2.5 to 3 C for every 1 C of overall global temperature rise. And the extreme heat we are seeing now in the Arctic is just a larger part of the geologically rapid warming trend now being driven primarily by human fossil fuel emissions.

Arctic Warming Faster Than Rest of World 2

(NASA graphic shows Arctic warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world. The capture is for 2000 through 2009 vs the NASA 1951 through 1980 20th Century baseline. Read article here at NASA’s Earth Observatory.)

Impacts like loss of sea ice’s cooling albedo effect (reflectivity), loss of land albedo due to greening and loss of snow cover, and unlocking of local carbon stores due to rising heat, expanding fires, and changes in weather all contribute to this more rapid rate of Northern Hemisphere Polar warming. In addition, warming oceans, northward moving climate zones, and warm wind influx events generated by weaknesses in the Polar Jet Stream preferentially transport heat toward the Arctic (especially during Winter). These various forcings generate an overall greater degree of warming for the Arctic Ocean region during Winter all while Summer sees extraordinary heat racing to the Continental edges North of the Arctic Circle.

The only effective way to slake this warming is to both halt human greenhouse gas emissions — which are the major driver of the big heat build up the world is now experiencing — as rapidly as possible while pursuing ways to remove the excess carbon loading from the Earth Atmosphere. Without these necessary responses and mitigations, more warming will continue to be locked into the pipeline and the greater the eventual temperature departure from 1880s (Holocene) values will ultimately become — with the Arctic increasingly entering a hot zone.

Links/Statements/Attribution:

Earth Nullschool

Climate Reanalyzer

Methane Blowhole

NASA’s Earth Observatory

What’s Causing the Poles to Warm Faster Than the Rest of The Earth?

Paleoclimate Tells Us We Have 1-2 C Additional Warming in Pipeline From CO2 Forcing

Record Heat and Abnormal Flooding as Siberia Gets Freak Weather

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Jennifer Francis

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to Spike

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

(Note: This post is not intended to draw any specific conclusion on the scientifically controversial issue of potential Arctic carbon store releases. Time-frames and thresholds for such potential amplifying feedbacks in response to human-forced warming — be they small, moderate, large or catastrophic — are currently not very well understood in the science. Mainstream science asserts that such feedbacks will tend to be more moderate and happen over longer time scales given current understanding of carbon store resiliency. That said, the amount of heat build up due to human-forced warming in the Arctic is impressive and concerning. For these reasons carbon store sensitivity necessitates close monitoring and further research by responsible observers.)

Another Ridiculous Ridge — Western Wildfires Grow as US Heatwave Casualties Mount

In Borrego Springs, CA at 10 AM this morning, the temperature was a scorching 116 degrees F. Temperatures today are expected to hit 122 degrees F (50 degrees C) for this California location — which would tie the all-time high for any date there. But it’s just a microcosm of the record-shattering heat that is now settling in over the US West. Heat that looks like it will remain in place for days and possibly weeks. Heat that is now resulting in tragic instances of loss of life even as it is sparking numerous massive widlfires, melting snowpacks, worsening droughts, and otherwise sparking conditions that are related to a human-forced heating of the globe.

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In Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, temperatures rocketed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 C or 14 degrees F above average) as numerous locales recorded temperatures well in excess of 120 throughout the region (see map below). Tuscon hit 115 (46 C or 15 F above average) and Phoenix soared to 118 (48 C or 15 degrees F above average). California saw its own spate of record heat with Los Angeles soaring to 96 F (36 C which is 23 F above average), Burbank hitting 109 F (43 C and also 23 F above average), Riverside seeing 111 F readings (44 C and 19 F above average) and Thermal rising all the way to 119 F (48 C and 13 F above average). Seven communities in New Mexico also saw record hot readings for the day.

Google Maps Phoenix Temperatures on Sunday

(Sections of Phoenix scorched on Sunday with this Google Map from Ben Newmann showing some areas experiencing 127 degree F [or 53 C] readings. Image source: Google Maps via Ben Newmann.)

The record heat resulted in 4 separate incidents of hiker deaths as rescue personnel responded to trail-goers suffering from heat injuries Sunday. Two of the fatalities occurred along trails near Tuscon while another pair of fatalities cropped up just outside of Phoenix. A fifth hiker is now also reported missing.

Today, the extreme heat is predicted to make a repeat comeback as readings are expected to hit or exceed 121 F in some regions. Meanwhile, Tuesday is expected to be even hotter.

Thousands of Firefighters Battling Blazes

As heat expanded beneath a sprawling dome of high pressure, groups of firefighters the size of small armies battled numerous blazes.

In Los Angeles 2,000 firefighters and 23 aircraft were engaged with the Sherpa Fire raging through the Santa Barbara region. By late Sunday, nearly 8,000 acres had burned (12 square miles), a section of a water treatment plant was consumed, and the fire was 54 percent contained. However, 55 mph winds overnight and temperatures rising to or near triple digit heat today were expected to give those fighting the blaze a grueling challenge.

Near Albuquerque, the Dog Head fire had consumed fully 18,000 acres and was only 9 percent contained by late Sunday evening. The swift moving and raging fire had damaged or consumed 45 structures by that time as 1,000 firefighters fought to contain it. Continued extreme heat in the region through at least Tuesday is expected to make fighting the blaze a very difficult prospect over the next two days.

Cedar Fire Changes Direction Late Sunday

(Cedar Creek Fire grows in size as it changes direction late Sunday. Image source: Chris Gross.)

North of Phoenix, the Cedar Creek Fire had swelled to 26,000 acres Monday, cut off route 60, and jumped the containment line. A shift in the wind caused the fire to dramatically alter course Sunday night — outflanking firefighting efforts in the process. The blaze had been 40 percent contained as of late Sunday, but these estimates will have to be revised downward. The fire is now threatening the town of Carrizo — which is expected to receive evacuation orders later today.

Conditions in Context

Fueling both the extreme heat and wildfire outbreaks across the Western US are conditions consistent with human-caused climate change. Very strong high pressure ridges dominate both the ocean zones of the Northeastern Pacific and the North Atlantic. These high pressure systems are both more powerful and extend further north than is typical. In addition, water temperatures both off the Eastern Seaboard and off the US West Coast are much warmer than normal. These features have all fed the development of a powerful heat dome high pressure system that is now forming over the US.

Another Ridiculous Ridge

(Ten day forecast shows an extremely powerful ridge in the Jet Stream extending all the way into the Arctic as an associated heat dome swells beneath. This kind of system threatens to propel 90 degree heat all the way to the shores of the Arctic Ocean over the next two weeks. To be very clear, these conditions are not normal. They represent an extreme south to north transfer of heat that threatens to deliver a brutal blow, not only to the US and Canada, but also to the Arctic itself. Image source: NOAA NCEP via Zack Labe.)

Over the coming days, this ridge is expected to swell and strengthen as it drives the Jet Stream far north over Canada and into the Arctic. There, sea ice extents continue to range in record lows for this time of year — lending power to the forming ridge and the heatwave inducing dome high pressure system developing underneath. As a result, we will likely continue to see fire hazards spike throughout the Central and Western US, we will likely continue to see record or near record heat, and we will likely see a re-expansion of drought conditions in the US West.

In addition, this heat dome is so powerful and has such a strong predicted northward extent that temperatures in the 80s or even 90s may extend as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean in Canada and Alaska. So wildfire and heatwave risks will be moving north into Arctic regions over the coming days as well.

Links:

Heatwave Scorching the Southwest Proves Fatal

National Interagency Fire Center

Sherpa Fire 51 Percent Contained

Wildfires Burn as Southwest Swelters Under Triple-Digit Heat

US Climate Data

NOAA NCEP

Zack Labe

Chris Gross

Ben Newmann

Hat tip to DT Lange

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Andy in San Diego

Hat tip to Caroline

Rapid Polar Warming Kicks ENSO Out of Climate Driver’s Seat, Sets off Big 2014-2016 Global Temperature Spike

“What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.” — Stefan Rahmstorf

A strong El Nino in 2015 helped to contribute to record hot global temperatures over the past three years. But with so much heat unexpectedly showing up in the global climate system, there’s clearly something else going on. And indicators are that the natural climate variability that human beings have grown accustomed to over the last 10,000 years may now be a thing of the past — as it is steadily overwhelmed by a stronger overall greenhouse gas based warming signature. One that is concentrating more and more warming near the poles.

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2014 was the hottest year on record. But that lasted only until the end of 2015 — which shattered the 2014 global heat record by a big margin. Then 2016 rolled around and produced what could best be described as an insane heat spike during the January through May period. Now, it’s about 95 percent certain that the 2015 record will also fall, leaving 2016 as the new hottest year on record in yet one more climate vertigo inducing temperature jump.

noaa-jan-may-temps

(The rate of warming for 2014 through 2015 is just off the charts. This scares scientists, and it should. This makes many climate experts wonder about causes, and it should. Prime suspect for the increased rate of change — amplifying feedbacks in the Arctic. Image source: NOAA Global Analysis and Weather Underground.)

In the end, temperatures are expected to level off near 1 C above 20th Century averages and around 1.2 C above 1880s averages by the end of this year. That’s a 0.3 C leap up since the mid 2000s. A screaming rate of decadal warming that is about twice as fast as that experienced since 1979. That’s an insanely fast pace of heat build-up. And it’s got many scientists seriously concerned. The records, as the Guardian aptly notes, were not just broken, they were obliterated. Adam Scaife, a scientist at the Met Office in the UK, agrees:

“The numbers are completely unprecedented. They really stick out like a sore thumb… Including this year so far, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been since 2000 – it’s a shocking statistic.”

So what the heck is going on? We know that a strong El Nino just passed. But, though a real beast of a thing, the 2015-2016 event wasn’t quite as powerful as the 1997-1998 El Nino. And global temperatures will end up being about 50 percent hotter than 1998 averages by the end of this year. Essentially leaving this great El Nino’s heat spike in the dust. Meanwhile, scientists attribute about 1/5th of the 2014 to 2016 heat spike to El Nino. The rest came from someplace else. But where?

The first obvious suspect is greenhouse gasses. In 1998, atmospheric CO2 levels peaked at around 365 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory. This year, that heat trapping gas hit near 408 parts per million in the same measure. That’s a 43 parts per million jump peak to peak in just 18 years. A 12 percent increase in a gas that is capable of causing severe geo-physical changes in what, geologically speaking, is not even a blink of an eye. And you have to go back millions of years into Earth’s history to find times when CO2 readings were so high.

So the big build-up of heat trapping gasses is the obvious driver of the overall insane rate of warming that we are now seeing. But that doesn’t account for what is an unexpected acceleration over the past three years. And to puzzle out that speed-up we need to dig a little deeper. To consider factors that are known as amplifying feedbacks.

And, thankfully, in this investigation, we are not flying completely blind. NASA and the other global climate monitors give us a rough global overview of where the Earth is warming up the fastest. And an investigation of comparable temperature anomalies at the Earth’s surface can give us some indication where the extra heat is coming from and why.

1997 — Some Polar Amplification (aka Death of Winter), But Mostly Equatorial Warming

The obvious choice is to pick two relevant years for comparison. And for our purposes we’ll pick 2015 and 1997. The reason for this pick is that both 1997 and 2015 were years in which strong El Ninos were building up and having their impact on the global climate system. And based on what we know about El Nino, we can expect a lot of heat coming out of the Equatorial Pacific as sea surface temperatures there ramp up. In a climate system that is only driven by a natural variability related El Nino, what you’d expect is that the primary heat spike would be in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. Any other heat spike would be a possible indicator of another climate driver for global temperatures.

1997 Temperature Anomaly

(1997 may have been the last year in which a big El Nino still maintained a tenuous grip as the primary driver for the global climate system. Image source: NASA.)

So for the year of 1997 (Jan-Dec) we find that a strong heat pulse does originate from the Eastern Equatorial Pacific region. In fact, it’s the largest zone containing temperature anomalies in the range of 2 to 4 C above average. But during this year we also find some pretty big anomalies in Central and North Asia. These flow across the Bering Sea into Alaska, Northwest Canada, and the Beaufort. High Arctic temperatures are somewhat cooler, though still anomalously warm. And West Antartica also shows its own, not insignificant temperature spike.

Given the fact that El Nino will tend to strengthen the Jet Stream and generate a warming bias in the tropical zones, we can already see that there’s probably some polar amplification going on in 1997. And overall, the northern polar zone from 66 North to 90 North shows a positive anomaly signature that is just 0.1 C shy of the equatorial anomaly produced by El Nino. But the heat signal between El Nino and Northern Hemisphere polar amplification appears to be more balanced, with El Nino still providing a slightly stronger share of the overall heat contribution.

Understanding Polar Amplification’s Impact Due to Global Warming

For reference — polar amplification is an expected more rapid increase in polar temperatures as global greenhouse gas concentrations increase. Under pressure from greenhouse gasses, the poles warm faster for a number of reasons. The first is due to albedo or reflectivity loss as ice melts. White ice changing to brown earth or blue ocean due to melt absorbs more sunlight and creates a preferential warming at the poles. In addition, greenhouse gasses (especially CO2) capture and re-radiate sunlight’s heat energy like a blanket. As a result, temperatures tend to homogenize more over the globe resulting in a greater rate of temperature increase where it’s coolest and darkest. And the poles are the coolest and darkest places on Earth.

A third cause of polar amplification involves added heat resulting in natural carbon store release. And some of the greatest concentrations of the world’s sequestered carbon stores are locked in frozen ground and water at or near the poles. If ice at the poles thaws, you tend to end up with a higher overburden of greenhouse gasses in these regions. This is particularly true in the Northern Hemisphere where large regions of permafrost and ocean carbon stores are more vulnerable to release from early warming than the deeply sequestered stores in Antarctica.

(Dr. Jennifer Francis’s observations on Jet Stream weakening and polar amplification have big implications both down [Pole] and up [Equator] stream.)

Finally, as the polar zones warm up, they tend to generate weaknesses in the circumpolar Jet Stream. This is due to the fact that temperature differences between pole and tropics drive both Jet Stream speed and strength. As the relative difference drops off, the Jet Stream slows. And when the Jet Stream slows it meanders — creating big troughs and ridges centering on the middle Latitudes but sometimes extending all the way up to the poles. In the ridge zones, warm air is able to drive further north or south. And this feeds polar amplification by linking hot Equatorial air masses with the Pole itself. Over recent years, high amplitude Jet Stream waves have become a regular feature of the global climate system and have been associated with numerous extreme weather events — some of the most notable being the Russian Heatwave and Pakistan floods of 2011 and the anomalous late December 2015 warming of the North Pole above freezing.

2015 — Polar Amplification in the Driver’s Seat

By 2015, the polar amplification signature, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, started to look ridiculously strong.

2015 El Nino Polar Amplification

(2015’s picture of Polar Amplification during an El Nino year should disturb anyone who knows anything about how global climate systems should work. Image source: NASA.)

And during this year we find that the zone of greatest temperature anomalies lies not over the Equatorial Pacific — but over the high Latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. 2-4 C above average temperatures dominate a huge zone stretching from North Central Asia and Europe and on up to the North Pole. A similar zone dominates Northwestern Canada, Alaska and the Beaufort Sea. And pretty much the entire Northern Hemisphere Polar and near Polar zone falls under 1-4 C above average temperatures for the year.

By comparison, the Eastern Equatorial Pacific appears to play second fiddle to the Polar and near Polar heat build up. A broad region across the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific does see 1-2 C above average temperatures, with a small pool of 2-4 C deltas off South America. But it’s not that much greater a signal than a significant heat pool over the Indian Ocean. And the Northern Hemisphere near Polar zone is altogether the area that’s clearly the global heat center of gravity. An observation bearing out in NASA’s zonal anomaly measure which finds that Latitudes  66 to 90 North were about 1.6 C above average and the highest relative temperature anomaly zone on the planet. Meanwhile, the Equator lags at +1.2 C above normal. That’s a relative Equator to Pole anomaly change of +0.5 C from El Nino years 1997 to 2015. An indicator that El Nino may no longer be the primary driver of the global temperature and climate engine. And that its overall role is greatly diminished over the 1997 to 2015 timeframe. And, finally, that a greenhouse gas based warming polar amplification signature is now in the driver’s seat.

So, basically what we have during an El Nino year is the pole warming relative to the Equator and under any condition other than human forced climate change — this is something that definitely should not happen. In other words, you’re not in Kansas anymore and Kansas isn’t on Earth anymore. At least the Earth that human civilization is used to. For what we’re experiencing is the climate of a planet that is definitely not operating under Holocene norms — but under the transitionally destabilizing forces of greenhouse gas based warming.

Warm Air Slots and The Death of Winter

So in comparison to 1997, it appears that during 2015 the Northern Pole gained heat very rapidly (increasing by +1 C over these 18 years) while Equatorial heat continued to build (adding +0.4 C over the same period). In other words, Polar warming was about 2.5 times faster than Equatorial warming during the 18 year interval. The result is that by the El Nino year of 2015, the Pole showed dramatically higher relative global temperature anomaly spikes. This, in a few simple words, is the evidence of a greenhouse gas warming based polar amplification writ large. But digging down into the details a bit more we find a number of further disturbing clues as to what’s really going on in the grinding gears of our global climate machinery.

September of 2015's Crushed Polar Vortex During a Spiking El Nino is a Bad Sign

(September of 2015’s crushed polar vortex and high amplitude Jet Stream wave patterns during a peak period of Equatorial heat known as El Nino is a bad, bad sign. A clear indication that polar amplification is starting the drive and destabilize the global climate regime. September 10 of 2015’s Northern Hemisphere Polar reference Jet Stream capture is by Earth Nullschool.)

The first is the appearance of a big warm air slot running directly from the Equatorial Pacific over the Eastern Pacific and North America and on up into the Northern Polar zone. Here we find the signature of 2015’s ridiculously resilient ridge (RRR) pattern in the NASA global anomaly map for the year. Warm air consistently funneled directly from the Equator, was drawn through the high amplitude ridge (see Dr Francis’s video above) and pulled into the polar zone.

But the RRR zone wasn’t the only big warm air slot pulling air north during 2015 — just, perhaps, the most obvious. A second big warm air slot appeared over the Eastern North Atlantic, Western Europe and extended to cover most of Asia. And this enormous Equatorial air sucking beast really ramped into high gear during late December of 2015 when it drove North Pole temperatures above freezing.

QBO Gravity Wave

(Upper level Equatorial zonal winds all peaked at the same time during September of 2015. A sign that Equatorial heat went north in a manner that produces some potentially bad implications for Northern Hemisphere Winter under a regime of human-forced climate change. Image source: Anthony Masiello.)

Taken in total, these warm air slots were enormous — exerting an amazing influence over the totality of global weather. The overall story is one in which the polar vortex was basically getting smashed during an El Nino year. Another big indication that things are teetering pretty far off kilter. One indicator of this was an anomalous spiking of all the upper level Equatorial wind speeds at the same time (in the Quasi Biennial Oscillation measure) during September of 2015. An event that current climate theory says shouldn’t happen, but it did. And yet one more hint that the Hadley Cell produced a huge northward bulge at the time. It’s also an indicator that Northern Hemisphere Winter is getting steadily beaten back to the ropes by the bully of northward running heat.

So what we’ve seen from 1997 to 2015 is a dramatic transition in which El Nino appears to have lost climate influence powers and become a slave to what is now a heat-sucking engine at the pole. It’s an emerging first phase of a death of winter type scenario. And the upshot is that the extra heat in the system that scientists are getting pretty concerned about appears now to be coming in large part from a ramping Northern Hemisphere polar amplification.

Links:

NOAA Global Analysis

NASA GISS

NOAA and NASA — Earth’s Warmest May on Record

Dr Jennifer Francis on Polar Amplification and the Jet Stream

Anthony Masiello

Quasi Biennial Oscillation

Earth Nullschool

Shattered Global Temperature Records Reveals Climate Change Emergency

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Jeff Masters and his best-in-class Weather Underground

Scientific hat tip to the prescient Dr. Jennifer Francis

Scientific hat tip to Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf

Scientific hat tip to Adam Scaife

Hat tip to Greg

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

Hat tip to Cate

Hat tip to DT Lange

 

 

Northern Polar Melt Re-Asserts With A Vengeance — Arctic Sea Ice Volume Closed on New Record Lows During February

Arctic sea ice volume hit near new record lows during February. That’s kinda a big deal. What it means is that whatever sea ice resiliency was recovered during 2013 and 2014 are now mostly gone. That record all-time lows for sea ice set in September of 2012 are likely to see a serious new challenge during 2016 and 2017.

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A flood of severe Arctic heat — flowing up through the Barents and Greenland seas in the East and over Alaska and the Bering Sea in the West — has been hammering the Arctic Sea Ice all Winter long. During February of 2016, new record lows in sea ice extent and area were breached. Meanwhile, sea ice volume — as measured by PIOMAS — also greatly declined to hover just above previous record lows for this time of year set in 2011.

PIOMAS Daily Volume

(Arctic sea ice volume, as measured by the Polar Science Center, plunged back to near record low territory during February. Many consider sea ice volume to be the key measure determining sea ice health. So these new drops in the volume measure are a bit spine-tingling. Image source: Wipneus.)

Looking at the above graph, provided by Wipneus, and based on model and observation data collected by the Polar Science Center, it appears that for some days during February, volume measurements even briefly descended into record low territory. As of early March, volume totals were in the range of just above 20,000 cubic kilometers — beating out 2012 as second lowest volume on measure and hovering just above 2011.

Winter Warming Grand Finale

Over the past ten days, abnormal warmth in the Arctic has faded somewhat. The lower Latitudes have heated up with the onset of spring and this has tended to strengthen the circumpolar winds. Perhaps the last bit of seasonal change that can have this effect given the alterations to atmospheric circulation produced by a human-forced warming of the globe and a particular high concentration of this added heat centering on the Arctic.

Ironically, the time-frame of late February to mid-March is when the higher Latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere tend to experience their coldest temperatures. During 2016, we did see some of this atmospheric effect take hold. As a result, temperatures in the High Arctic above the 80 degree North Latitude line have fallen from record warm readings in late February to far above average warm temperatures over recent days.

Temperature above 80 north

(Ever since Early January, Arctic temperatures have been in near record or record warm ranges. This consistent heat has resulted in the warmest Winter temperatures ever experienced for the region above the 80 North Latitude Line. Image source: CIRES/NOAA.)

Today, another very strong pulse of warmth is building up through the region of the Barents and Greenland seas. This heat pulse representing yet another warm wind event for 2016. Another very strong south to north atmospheric draw flooding in front of yet another chain of strong low pressure systems in the North Atlantic. A flow of heat drawn up from the tropics and delivered to the Arctic that will briefly drive regions near the North Pole above the -2 C melting point of sea ice even as a wide wedge of 20 degree Celsius above average temperatures invades a region stretching from Northeast Greenland to the North Pole and back to the isle of Novaya Zemlya in Russia.

Overall, the sea ice in this region is much weaker than normal. Volume is greatly thinned as both the relentless heat influxes and strong sea ice export through the Fram Strait this Winter has leeched the area of thick ice. Most sea ice measures show a loss in concentration and volume for this area. But we’ll know more as the Earth tilts back toward the sun and visible satellite coverage again takes in the entire Arctic.

Given atmospheric changes taking place with Spring — where Continental and lower Latitude warming hold greater sway over atmospheric circulation — this may be the last burst of heat we see through this zone that produces such high temperature anomalies. A grand finale for the record warm Arctic Winter of 2016.

Warm North Atlantic Winds

(Warm North Atlantic Winds are predicted to blow into the Arctic yet again on Saturday, March 12. These winds will push temperatures over a broad region of sea ice to near freezing, driving such anomalously warm temperatures all the way to the North Pole. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

To be clear, long range model forecasts do identify far above average sea surface temperatures and above average 2 meter air temperatures for this region through Spring and on into Summer. However, the Arctic overall is not as capable of producing such high temperature anomalies during Summer as it is during Winter when the human supplied greenhouse gas overburden and the related warming of the oceans holds a much stronger sway — re-radiating an insane amount of heat throughout the long polar night.

High Arctic Temperature Anomalies Predicted to Fall-off For a Short While, Melt Potential Through Summer Looks Rather Bad

To this point, it appears the Arctic may be in for a brief respite on the 3-7 day horizon. GFS model runs indicate overall cooling for the region above the 66 North Latitude line and temperatures above 80 North may see their first period of near average temperatures since late December of 2015. This respite for the High Arctic, though, comes as temperatures in the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering, and along Hudson Bay are expected to warm.

Arctic Sea Ice Area lowest on record

(Arctic sea ice area remains at record low levels during March of 2016. Image source: Cryosphere Today.)

It’s a mixed signal that may continue some of the very slight Arctic sea ice rejuvenation we’ve seen during March — with sea ice area still in record low territory, but with sea ice extent edging back to second lowest on record and just slightly above 2015.

To be clear, we’re at a very low launching pad for the start of melt season in 2016. Record low or near record low sea ice volumes in February and continuing record low area show that sea ice resiliency is pretty terrible at this time. Furthermore, Northern Hemisphere snow cover totals also at or near new record lows hint that warming of the land masses surrounding the Arctic may be very rapid come mid to late March and throughout April. To this point, 10 day Euro model runs show a tendency for rapid warming over the Northwest Territories, Alaska, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the East Siberian Sea, and far Eastern Siberia during this period even as the thaw line pretty much everywhere jumps swiftly northward.

A fading record El Nino in the Eastern Pacific will also tend to result in ample excess Equatorial heat heading northward. As a result, the overall risk of strong sea ice melt through the Summer of 2016 remains very high.

Links:

The Polar Science Center

Wipneus

The Arctic Sea Ice Blog

Arctic Sea Ice Graphs

CIRES/NOAA

Climate Reanalyzer

Arctic Explorer

Earth Nullschool

Cryosphere Today

Euro Model Runs

 

2 C Coming On Faster Than We Feared — Atmospheric Methane Spikes to Record 3096 Parts Per Billion

It’s essential that policymakers begin to seriously consider the possibility of a substantial permafrost carbon feedback to global warming. If they don’t, I suspect that down the road we’ll all be looking at the 2°C threshold in our rear-view mirror.Robert Max Holmes

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Unraveling the global warming puzzle is simple at its face, complex when you pierce the surface.

We know that burning fossil fuels, that the activity of mining coal, fracking for gas, and drilling for oil all result in dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. We know that the vast majority of these warming gasses are coming from fossil fuel based sources. We know that, now, the burning and mining and fracking and drilling have pushed atmospheric CO2 above 405 parts per million and the global concentration of all CO2 equivalent gasses to an amazing 485 parts per million CO2e (levels not seen in at least 15 million years). And we know that the heat re-radiated by these gasses has warmed the world by about 1 C above 1880s levels — forcing weather patterns to change, seas to rise, ocean health to decline, and setting off a wave of die offs in the animal world while increasing the near-term risk of hunger, spreading tropical disease, and mass displacement in the human world.

Radiative Forcing

(Heat added to the Earth’s atmosphere by fossil fuel emitted gasses like CO2 and Methane are measured in watts per meter squared. A yardstick known as radiative forcing [RF]. In the above graph by IPCC, we can see the estimated levels of radiative forcing from each greenhouse gas and total net human heat forcing upon the Earth atmosphere as of 2011. It’s a measure that may also need to start adding in the RF of feedback greenhouse gasses as the 21st Century progresses. Image source: RealClimate.)

We know many of the names of these other gasses — methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbon. And some of the others — like sulfur hexaflouride — many of us haven’t yet heard of. But the big name, the primary warming agent, is carbon dioxide — responsible on its own for the majority of the overall heat forcing currently. A gas so important to long term warming that NASA has called it ‘the thermostat that controls Earth’s temperature.’

All this is pretty simple and straightforward. But it’s when we start looking at what are called amplifying feedbacks — the Earth System Sensitivity responses to human forced warming — that things really start to get dicey. And wrapped up in the Earth System Sensitivity equation is methane — a greenhouse gas with the ability to strongly influence global temperatures over rather short time-frames.

Methane Spikes to Over 3,000 parts per Billion

On February 20th, for about 12 hours, the NOAA METOP measure recorded a major atmospheric methane spike in the range of 3,096 parts per billion at 20,000 feet in altitude. This was the first time that any measure had recorded such a high methane spike and the first time any measure had exceeded the 3,000 parts per billion threshold. For context, just two years ago, a methane spike in the range of 2,660 parts per billion would have been significant. Now, we’re getting peak readings that are more than 400 parts per billion higher than that previous maximum threshold.

Metop methane

(METOP showed a record 3,096 parts per billion atmospheric methane spike on February 20 of 2016. Thus far, this was the largest such spike ever recorded in the NOAA measure. One that far exceeded a global atmospheric average of around 1830 parts per billion. Image source: NOAA/METOP.)

It’s a pretty ominous signal — especially when you consider the fact that global atmospheric methane averages are in the range of 1830 parts per billion. The recent major spike was about 1170 parts per billion higher. In other words — a pretty extraordinary excession. It’s evidence that the methane sources of the world are growing more vigorous in their output. And when you consider the fact that methane — on a molecule-by-molecule comparison to CO2 — traps about 80 times more heat over the decadal timescale, large additions of methane on top of an already dangerous CO2 forcing is certainly cause for some concern. An issue that may further speed the already rapid pace of human-forced warming such that we become at risk of hitting the 1.5 C and 2 C thresholds sooner than expected. Outcomes we should urgently be working to avoid — by cutting the human-based emission as rapidly as possible at this time.

The Usual Suspects — Fossil Fuel Based Activity

Perhaps still more concerning is the fact that we really don’t know exactly where this significant methane spike is coming from.

We do, however, have a long list of usual suspects. The first, of course, would be from any number of very large and dangerous fossil fuel emission sources. China, with its massive methane belching coal mines, gas infrastructure, and dirty coal burning facilities would be a prime suspect. Mongolia, where equally sprawling coal and gas facilities operate is another likely hot spot. Russia — with its vast and leaky oil and gas fields. The Middle East — which is choked with fossil fuel infrastructure. Europe — where many of Russia’s pipelines terminate and where many nations burn a high-methane brown coal. And the United States — where the geologically destructive practice of fracking has now also recently and greatly increased methane emissions.

Unusual Suspects — Permafrost and Clathrate Warmed by Fossil Fuel Emissions

Looking at the very low resolution METOP graphic above, we find a number of methane hot spots around the globe. And many of these hot spots do coincide with our usual suspects list. But others are well outside the range we would typically expect. Far up in the north. Over the tundra and the Arctic Ocean where few major fossil fuel burning or extraction facilities now exist. There, somewhat ironically, great piles of permafrost spreading over millions of square miles and sometimes mounding up as thick as two miles are thawing due a greenhouse gas heat forcing from fossil fuel burning often happening hundreds or thousands of miles away. This thawing permafrost is filled with organic material. And when freed of its icy prison it is exposed to the world’s elements and microbes. These forces then go to work turning the organic carbon in that permafrost into carbon dioxide and methane.

This is rather bad news. In total, more than 1,300 billion tons of carbon are locked away in the permafrost soils. And carbon emissions from permafrost make an already bad heat forcing coming from fossil fuel burning even worse.

Barrow methane

(Atmospheric methane levels as recorded by various reporting stations and global monitors have been rising more rapidly during recent years. In the Arctic, atmospheric readings have tended to remain above the global average — an indication that local emissions are generating an overburden for the region. Image source: NOAA ESRL.)

But if all the human emissions and potential permafrost emissions weren’t bad enough, we have one more major carbon source in the Arctic to consider — methane hydrate. A controversial potential methane release source to be certain. But a very large one that we would be remiss to ignore. Due to the fact that the Arctic has remained very cold overall for the past 3 million years of long ice ages and brief interglacials, this massive store of carbon has been given the opportunity to build up within the relatively shallow and now swiftly warming Arctic Ocean waters and even beneath large sections of now-thawing permafrost. Much of this carbon is in the form of the frozen ice-methane called hydrate. And as the Arctic Ocean warms and sea ice recedes to expose blue ocean to the heating of the sun’s rays for the first time in hundreds of thousands of years, there is concern among some scientists that a not insignificant amount of that submerged frozen methane will release, pass the ocean-atmosphere or thawing permafrost boundary, and add more heat forcing to the world’s atmosphere. The shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf has been identified by some to contain as much as 500 billion tons of carbon in the form of frozen methane. And a fossil fueled heating of the Earth may be just now risking amplifying feedback level releases from this large clathrate store along with a number of other very large stores scattered all across the Arctic Ocean basin and on throughout the global ocean system.

A Clearer Picture? Or One Far More Complex?

So who among all the various suspects — usual and unusual — may be responsible for the record methane spike now showing up in the METOP measure?

Before we attempt to answer this question, let’s pull in another methane graphic — this one from the Copernicus Observatory:

Global Surface Methane Readings Copernicus

(The February 25 Copenicus methane graphic tracking surface methane readings gives a higher resolution indication of surface methane readings than the NOAA METOP measure. This second measure provides some confirmation of an Arctic methane overburden even as spike sources from human emissions become more readily apparent. Omnious spikes also apparently come from wildfires in the tropics and from regions in the Arctic near Yamal, Russia, Northern Scandinavia, the Barents and Kara seas. Image source: The Copernicus Observatory.)

Here we can see the range of surface methane readings according to Copernicus. A higher resolution image that may provide us with a better idea of the point-source location for daily global methane spikes. Here we see that the major methane sources are predominantly China, Russia, the Middle East, Europe, the United States, India, Indonesia, Fires in Africa and the Amazon, and, finally, the Arctic.

Though the Copernicus measure doesn’t show the same level of Arctic overburden as what has tended to show up in the METOP measure, it’s a confirmation that something in the near Arctic environment is generating local spikes in above 1940 parts per billion for large regions of this sensitive zone.

The Copernicus measure, as noted above, also shows that the human spikes are quite intense, remaining the dominant source of methane emissions globally despite a continued disturbing overburden in the Arctic. Spikes in Africa, the Amazon, and Indonesia also indicate that declining rain forests and related fires in these tropical zones are also probably providing an amplifying feedback to the overall human emission.

Given this month’s spikes and the overall disposition of surface methane readings around the globe, it does appear that the large human base methane emission is being enhanced by feedbacks from local emissions from carbon stores both in the tropics and in the Arctic. This enhancement signal, though somewhat smaller than the fossil fuel related signal in some measures, is concerning and hints that Robert Max Holmes’ warning at the top may be all-too-relevant. For Earth System feedbacks to massive and irresponsible fossil fuel emissions appear to already be starting to complicate our picture of a warming Earth.

Links:

CO2: The Thermostat That Controls Earth’s Temperature

Ominous Arctic Methane Spike Continues

Huge Methane Spike Coming from US Fracking

Methane Release From Frozen Permafrost Could Trigger Dangerous Global Warming

Concern over Catastrophic Methane Release

A4R Global Methane Tracking

The Copernicus Observatory

NOAA ESRL

RealClimate

NOAA/METOP

Hat Tip to Griffin

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