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.


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.


(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.


NOAA Global Analysis


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




Climate Change and El Nino Locked in Tempestuous Embrace — Teleconnection Between Hot Equatorial Pacific and North Atlantic Cool Pool?

The troubled and tempestuous North Atlantic. It’s a place where the most ominous kinds of atmospheric bombs just keep going off. From the Cumbria floods — the worst seen since at least the Middle Ages — to the 300-year-old bridge wrecking Frank, to above-freezing temperatures at the North Pole during Winter, weather features throughout this region have increasingly taken on the ugly markings of systems twisted by the hand of human-forced warming.

One issue that’s been raised is what, if any, influence El Nino might have had on this most oddly extreme North Atlantic weather? There, such anomalous storms are more than likely the off-shoots of three new features related to climate change. One is a Stefan Ramhstorf-identified cool pool of water just south of Greenland. A freakish region of colder than normal sea surfaces that is, all-too-likely, the result of increased glacial melt outflows from a heat-harrowed Greenland. A second climate change related feature is a zone of very hot water along the Gulf Stream off the US East Coast. This odd warmth is likely due to a kind of Gulf Stream train wreck caused by the blocking lid of fresh water Greenland melt has thrown over that current’s driving circulation. So as the zone south of Greenland cools, the area just off the Eastern Seaboard heats up. A third and final feature is a polar warming related heating of the Barents sea surface along with a related massacre of sea ice in that previously frozen region.

These three features have radically altered the heat and moisture exchange patterns of the North Atlantic and are all too likely the primary factors involved in the crazy increase in extreme weather we’ve seen there during 2013, 2014, and 2015.


(Teleconnection between El Nino and the three freak weather patterns in the North Atlantic? River of moisture running up from the El Nino heat bleed in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific all the way to a storm forming in the North Atlantic cool pool just south of Greenland on January 1 of 2016. Note the above image is a graphical measure of total precipitable water content. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

But one factor that has been somewhat murky is what, if any, influence a near record or record El Nino may be having on the weather bombs going off over this climate change hotspot? At issue is the fact that teleconnections — or atmospheric energy and moisture exchange — between El Nino and the North Atlantic are somewhat difficult to tease out in the model essays and observational data.

However, this year, there does appear to be quite a lot of heat and moisture issuing from the monster El Nino raging in the Equatorial Pacific. For one, the record rains over South Carolina and the Central United States this year are certainly tied to an extremely heavy flood of moisture coming from this major atmospheric and ocean event. The moisture bleed has originated from the Eastern Pacific, lofted over Mexico and Central America to saturate airs over the Gulf States, the Central and Eastern US.

Recent observational data, in addition, also hints that this extraordinary moisture flow may well be linking up with another major moisture bleed off of sea surfaces in the range of 5-7 degrees Celsius above average off the US East Coast before feeding directly into the storm bombification zone over the North Atlantic cool pool.

Teleconnection between El Nino and North Atlantic Cool Pool

(River of moisture sets up between Equatorial Pacific and North Atlantic on January 1 of 2016. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

It’s initial observational evidence that may well be the answer to a question we’ve been asking in the forum here since summer time — could such a teleconnection set up between these two ocean surface temperature anomaly features? In other words, could we be seeing a link up between El Nino and features that are all-too likely related to climate change resulting in some extraordinarily severe weather? Well, on January 1, as identified by the cracker-jack spotting of Andy in San Diego, the atmosphere appeared to present a very strong tell-tale of just such a link up between moisture flows.

In the above NASA MODIS satellite shot we find what appears to be an atmospheric river of moisture running along a cloud pattern issuing from the Eastern Equatorial Pacific, across Mexico and the Southern US, out over the raging hot waters off the US East Coast and finally terminating in the North Atlantic cool pool zone east of Newfoundland and just south of Greenland.

If this is indeed what’s happening, then what we’re seeing is El Nino enhancing an already extremely intense North Atlantic storm generation pattern that is all-too-likely related to climate change. An El Nino + Climate Change teleconnection between the Pacific Equator, the North Atlantic, and, earlier this week, the North Pole that’s about just as unprecedented as all the never-before-seen weather we experienced during 2015. Something that could well turn weather forecasting as we know it on its ear.

In any case, something to look for in the post event reports on this, very disruptive, El Nino and possibly related North Atlantic extreme weather.



Earth Nullschool

Warm Storm Pushes Above Freezing Temperatures at North Pole

Hat Tip to Andy in San Diego (fantastic spotting!)

Signs of Gulf Stream Slowdown — Sea Level More Than a Foot Higher off US East Coast

It’s the stuff that climate disaster movies are made of. But the events are all too real — happening now and not part of some dramatized script played out on the silver screen.

Signs abound that global ocean circulation is being profoundly altered by human-forced climate change. A pool of cold water has developed in the North Atlantic. England is getting slammed by anomalous winter-type rains and gales in August. And sea surface heights off the US East Coast are more than 30 centimeters (one foot) above the 1979 to 2015 average.

Sea level anomalies 30 cm off US east coast

(Global sea surface height anomalies off the US East Coast are more than a foot (30 cm) above the 1979 to 2015 average. A clear sign that the Gulf Stream is slowing down, perhaps by as much as 15-30 percent. Complete shut down of the Gulf Stream, though unlikely without extremely large melt outflows from Greenland, would result in a very dangerous 1 meter sea level rise. An impact that is primarily driven by ocean current change. Sea level rise by thermal expansion and glacial melt would, necessarily, pile on top of this bulge of backed up waters. Image source: NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.)

World Ocean Heartbeat Fading

This past March, after observations of rising sea levels off the US East Coast, extreme positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the same region, and a critical slowing down of North Atlantic over-turning recorded throughout the 20th Century, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf published this earth-shattering paper in the scientific journal Nature.

The paper meticulously recorded a slow-down of bottom water formation in a region of the Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland. The period studied included all of the 20th Century and the first one and one half decades of the 21st Century. Rahmstorf concluded that Greenland ice sheet melt — starting around 1900 and spiking after 1975 — was having a profound impact. Cold, fresh water issuing out from Greenland was cutting off the flow of heavier, salty water transported northward by the Gulf Stream. It was preventing larger portions of that water from sinking. And it was slowing down the Gulf Stream together with a host of other ocean circulation driving currents.

A system vital to both the life and health of the world ocean and global weather stability was entering an arrest. In other words, the world ocean heartbeat was fading.

The Gulf Stream Train Wreck

Since the publication of Rahmstorf’s paper, evidence of a bottom water formation interruption and a subsequent Gulf Stream train wreck continued to pile up. Sea surface temperatures off the US East Coast, during summer time spiked to as high as 85 Fahrenheit (29.3 C) off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. And regions off Nantucket hit as high as 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C). That’s between 7-10 F (4-6 C) hotter than average for an already typically warm Gulf Stream.


(Left frame image shows Gulf Stream waters spiking to 29.3 C or 85 F off New York and New Jersey. Temperatures in the range of 7-10 F [4-6 C] above average. Right frame image shows cool pool development in the typical bottom water formation zone between Greenland, England and Newfoundland. Combined with the ocean current overlay, which shows widespread meandering, this hot south, cold north ocean surface dipole is an indication that the Gulf Stream is slowing down and that bottom water formation is weakening. Image source: Earth Nullschool.)

Further north, the opposite is happening. In the region east of the Grand Banks where the Gulf Stream currents typically flow strongly, there’s only a weak, meandering, confluence. The Gulf Stream appears to have hit a barrier. It has bottled up off the Northeastern US Coast. And it appears reluctant or unable to flow past mid-ocean.

As a result, a broad zone between England, the Southeastern Coast of Greenland and Newfoundland lack the warm, salty inflow of a strong Gulf Stream. Sea surface temperatures range from 2-7 F (1 to 4 C) below average. The northward progress of heat from the Gulf Stream is tapering off. And this cut off of heat flow from Equator to mid latitudes shows more and more as the development of an anomalous cool pool continues throughout.

Taking in the entire North Atlantic, what we see is a weather-destabilizing hot-cold dipole. The warm waters are backed up off the US East Coast. This is evidenced by both the very warm sea surface temperatures and by an extreme increase in sea surface heights by 1 foot over a broad region. And to the north, we have the climate change signature cool pool.

Anomalous Storms Strike England During Summer

This Gulf Stream train wreck and related cool pool development has already done a bit of a number on UK weather this summer. A series of gales and heavy rainstorms have slammed into the UK Coast — bringing heavy seas and torrential rains. One months worth of rainfall fell over parts of the UK during the past week alone. And with more storms on the way it appears that August of 2015 may be the wettest ever recorded.

It’s a changed climate state that Dr. James Hansen warned of in a recent paper. One that means more powerful storms for the North Atlantic as the Greenland Ice Sheet spews out greater and greater volumes of water and ice. Ever since 2012, we’ve seen a tendency for these kinds of anomalously powerful storms. And more rough weather is certainly on the way.


(During the winter of 2013 and 2014, storms reshaped the coastlines of the British Isles. But this was just the start. For the North Atlantic is now in the process of firing up an age of storms. Image source: AGU.)

The Fall forecast is calling for the strong gales that we’ve already seen to continue to intensify through at least October and November. Strong storms that will draw energy by the high differences in sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, but also, possibly, from an El Nino-amplified storm track causing powerful troughs to begin to dig in off the US East Coast. A situation that could set up a kind of trans-Atlantic storm firing line.

The long term forecast, however, is even worse. With Greenland just beginning to shed more and more of its ice, the cool pool off England will tend to intensify even as the hot pool off the US East Coast and within the Gulf of Mexico heightens. A screaming, storm-generating temperature differential that such melt will worsen as the decades wear on and if human fossil fuel burning continues to add more heat fuel to this already developing dangerous situation.


NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center

Rahmstorf– AMOC is Slowing Down

World Ocean Heartbeat is Fading

Earth Nullschool

Even Chances August Will Be Wettest on Record for The UK

Warning From Scientists — Halt Fossil Fuel Burning or Age of Storms, Rapid Sea Level Rise is Coming

North Atlantic Ramping up to “Storms of My Grandchildren?”


Fall Forecast: Storms Target UK, France

Hat tip to Spike

%d bloggers like this: