Tag Archives: Climate change

Earth gets hot in 2014, breaks record for average temperature

UPDATE, Jan. 20, 2015
Some people apparently are skeptical about whether 2014 was actually the warmest on record. They cite probabilities provided by government researchers to support their skepticism. But at least some skeptics seem confused about the meaning of this statistical uncertainty.

Andrew Freedman of Mashable tackles the subject in a straightforward way. But the best point in his piece comes in the final paragraph:

At the end of the day, the discussion about a single calendar year obscures the more important long-term trend of warming air temperatures, warming and acidifying oceans along with melting ice sheets, all of which are hallmarks of manmade global warming. Including 2014, 13 of the top 15 warmest years have all occurred since 2000.

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Last year turns out to be the hottest year on record for the Earth’s surface, according to climate researchers who analyzed average temperatures across the globe.

The year 2014 adds yet another dramatic page to the record book, which now shows that the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred since the year 2000 — with the exception of the record year of 1998, which now stands as the fourth warmest on record.

The data were released this morning, with additional information provided in a telephone conference call with scientists from NOAA — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and NASA — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The two agencies conducted independent analyses of their data, coming to the same conclusion about the record year of 2014.

Across the Earth, the average temperature in 2014 was 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit above the annual average of 57.0 degrees F, with records going back to 1880. That breaks the previous records of 2005 and 2010 by 0.07 degrees F. It’s also the 38th consecutive year that the annual global temperature was above average.

Since 1880, the Earth’s average surface temperature has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, mostly driven by an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the researchers said. Most of the warming has come since the 1980s.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, made this comment in a prepared statement:

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Although some skeptics have raised questions about whether global warming has been occurring in recent years, Schmidt said any short-term pause does not change the overall trend. In fact, the temperature rise seen for the past year fits perfectly onto a graph of the decades-long trend line for temperature rise.

temp graph

Ocean conditions such as El Nino or La Nina can affect temperatures year-to-year, Schmidt said. Since these phenomena can cool or warm the tropical Pacific, they probably played a role in temporarily “flattening” the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years, he added, but last year’s record-breaking temperatures occurred during a “neutral” El Nino year.

This past year was the first time since 1990 that the global heat record was broken in the absence of El Nino conditions during the year. If El Nino conditions are present at the end of 2015, the researchers said the chances are high that the record will be broken again this year.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post in Water Ways, strong regional differences were seen last year in the contiguous United States, with several western states experiencing record highs while the Midwest suffered through an abnormally cold winter. Other cold spots can be seen on the global map, but the hot spots more than balanced them out to break the heat record.

global temps

Much of the record warmth of the Earth can be attributed to record heat accumulated across the oceans. The average ocean temperature in 2014 was 1.03 degrees higher than the longterm average of 60.9 degrees, breaking previous records set in 1998 and 2003.

Record months for ocean temperatures were seen from May through November, with January through April each among the all-time top seven, while December was the third warmest December on record. The all-time monthly record was broken in June of last year, then broken again in August and again in September. Such sustained warmth in the ocean has not been seen since 1997-98 — during a strong El Nino.

On the land surface, the average temperature was 1.8 degrees higher than the long-term average of 47.3 degrees F, or the fourth highest average land temperature on record.

Europe is expected to report that 2014 was the warmest year in at least 500 years, according to information from the World Meteorological Organization. Last year surpasses the previous record set in 2007. Much of that warmth can be attributed to the second-warmest winter on record, followed by a record-warm spring.

According to the WMO report, 19 European countries have reported or are expected to report that last year was their hottest year on record. They Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Around the world, precipitation was near average for 2014, the third year that near-average precipitation was measured for land-based stations.

The 10 warmest years on record, in order:

1. 2014, 1.24 degrees above average
2 (tie). 2010, 1.17 degrees above average
2 (tie). 2005, 1.17 degrees above average
4. 1998, 1.13 degrees above average
5 (tie). 2013, 1.12 degrees above average
5 (tie). 2003, 1.12 degrees above average
7. 2002, 1.10 degrees above average
8. 2006, 1.08 degrees above average
9 (tie). 2009, 1.06 degrees above average
9 (tie). 2007, 1.06 degrees above average

For further information, check out:

Global Analysis — Annual 2014 from NOAA, and

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis from NASA.

Computer model shows colorful swirls as winds blow carbon dioxide

An ultra-high-resolution computer model ties weather into greenhouse gas emissions, and the resulting animation shows whirling and shifting plumes of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Ultimately, the greenhouse gases disperse into the atmosphere, increasing concentrations across the globe and contributing to global warming. It’s almost too complex to comprehend, but it is a fascinating process.

As you can see from the video, carbon dioxide levels are more significant in the Northern Hemisphere, where the emissions are out of phase with the Southern Hemisphere. That’s because the seasons are opposite, with the maximum growth of vegetation taking place at different times.

The reds and purples are the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide. The dark grays denote the highest levels of carbon monoxide, caused mainly by large forest fires.

Bill Putman, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said it a prepared statement:

“While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global consequences, it’s fascinating to see how local emission sources and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a very regional scale. Simulations like this, combined with data from observations, will help improve our understanding of both human emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the globe.”

The animation was produced with data from measurements of atmospheric conditions plus the emission of greenhouse gases, both natural and man-made. The simulation, called “Nature Run,” covers a period May 2005 to June 2007. Engineers can use the model, called GEOS-5, to test satellite observations.

In July, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations. The additional data will add to Earth-based measurements. See also OCO-2 Mission Overview.

According to studies, last spring was the first time in modern history that carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Concentrations are continuing to rise, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Levels were about 270 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

The GEOS-5 computer model is being used in tests known as Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSE), which can help satellite observations tie into weather and climate forecasts.

Said Putnam:

“While researchers working on OSSEs have had to rely on regional models to provide such high-resolution Nature Run simulations in the past, this global simulation now provides a new source of experimentation in a comprehensive global context. This will provide critical value for the design of Earth-orbiting satellite instruments.”

For more detailed views involving various parts of the world, see “A Closer Look at Carbon Dioxide” on NASA’s website for “Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2.” For information about modeling, visit the website of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

Amusing Monday: To laugh about climate change

I just realized the other day that I’ve never offered any jokes about climate change in my weekly “Amusing Monday” feature — although I did present a video clip from Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” a little more than a year ago. See Amusing Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.

Please don’t tell me it is inappropriate to laugh about tragedy. I mean, don’t even suggest that we can’t find humor in something that does not exist.

So I’ll raise the stakes this week by offering TWO Stephen Colbert videos plus a smattering of jokes from across the comedic landscape — which, by the way, is growing warmer by the year.

David Letterman: “Experts say this global warming is serious, and they are predicting now that by the year 2050, we will be out of party ice.”

Jay Leno: “They say if the warming trend continues, by 2015 Hillary Clinton might actually thaw out.”

Jimmy Fallon: “The White House released this massive report on the effects of climate change called the ‘National Climate Assessment,’ which beats the original title, ‘It’s Getting Hot in Here. (Fallon)

Jimmy Kimmel: “President Bush has a plan. He says that if we need to, we can lower the temperature dramatically just by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius.”

Conan O’Brien:
“Yesterday, a group of scientists warned that because of global warming, sea levels will rise so much that parts of New Jersey will be under water. The bad news? Parts of New Jersey won’t be under water.”

The jokes above, except for Jimmy Fallon’s, were from “Late night jokes about global warming.”

Do you like cartoons? Take a look at this “Cartoon Gallery” from various artists compiled by Daniel Kurtzman. I’ve linked to the first; click the right arrow to see the full series.

Here are more jokes from lesser-known comedians:

“John Boehner says he’s not qualified to debate the science of climate change. And don’t even get him started on that wacky evolution thing.” — Warren Holstein

“Pat Sajak is correct when he says global warming alarmists are racists. They never talk about the plight of brown or black bears.” — Adam Wolf

“Al Gore has warned that cigarette smoking is a, ‘significant contributor to global warming.’ Making even more of an impact was the hot-air released by this comment.” — Chris Mata

“’I’m not paying to heat the outdoors.’ — some old guy who’s never heard of global warming” — Dan Dodge

“What if global warming IS a hoax and we make this world a better place … for nothing.” — Cold Lord Quietus

Congress throwing away the keys to problem-solving

I have been waiting for a prominent person to step forward and compare the politics surrounding climate change to what Congress just went through with the government shutdown and debt limit. Just in time, out of the woodwork, comes former Vice President Al Gore with his droll approach to the subject.

“Congress is pathetic right now, Gore said during an interview on “Take Part Live.” He continued:

“There are some awful good people in Congress trapped in a bad system. The truth is our democracy has been hacked; big money now calls the shots. That may sound like a radical statement, but less and less to people who have been paying attention to what’s been going on there.

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Amusing Monday: Celebrating polar bears

Wednesday is International Polar Bear Day, an unofficial holiday that is gaining increasing attention as more and more people become worried about the future of this unique species.

Nobody seems to know how Polar Bear Day got started, but it has strong connections to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage and to Polar Bears International, which is leading an enthusiastic campaign to curb global warming and reduce the loss of sea ice, which may be the greatest threat to polar bears.

The campaign goes by the name Save Our Sea Ice! or just SOS!. Check out this bulletin board created by first and second graders at Carpathia School in Winnipeg.

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Amusing Monday: Colbert reacts to climate change

Last week, Stephen Colbert went on an eight-minute rant about climate change, talking about how humans should or should not respond to the upheaval in the environment. It is a speech that only Colbert with his unique persona could pull off in grand style.

Listen for the part where commentator Erick Erickson asks, “What does it matter?” Even if everyone were to shut down production of greenhouse gases, he says, it would take about 100 years to see the effect.

And Colbert responds: “Yeah, what’s the point of going to all that trouble if me and Erick Erickson won’t be around to enjoy it? Sure, our grandkids will. But I don’t want to be one of those grandpas who spoils the grandkids with a habitable planet.”

Be alert for tidal flooding and King Tide photos

Some of the highest tides of the year, combined with a strong low-pressure system, could provide “King Tide” observers with ideal conditions tomorrow (Monday) for taking pictures of near-flood conditions or even flooding in some places.

This is the third year the Washington Department of Ecology has put out a call for photos of high-tide conditions.

Photo of Poulsbo waterfront taken during “King Tides” Dec. 28, 2011.
Photo by James Groh, Poulsbo

“Documenting how very high tides affect the natural environment and our coastal infrastructure will help us visualize what sea level rise might look like in the future,” states Ecology’s “Climate Change” blog.

The King Tide photo initiative began in Australia in January 2009. Washington and British Columbia joined in 2010, followed by Oregon and California in 2011.

Tide tables predict that tides in Bremerton and Port Orchard will reach 13.4 feet at 8:28 a.m. tomorrow. Check on other locations and other days in Washington state at Saltwater Tides.

The National Weather Service has issued a coastal flood advisory for Western Washington because of low-pressure conditions, which could add 1.5 feet to the tide table prediction. That would put the Bremerton area at 14.9 feet. Check out the Weather Service advisory and the Kitsap Sun story.

While it looks like we’ll have a very high tide, it probably won’t be a record. I was unable to find historical data for Bremerton, but the record high tide for Seattle is 22.4 feet on Jan. 27, 1983. The tide tables predict that Seattle will reach 12.5 feet tomorrow, or 14 feet with the added 1.5 feet because of the low pressure.

Historical data can be found on NOAA’s “Tides and Currents” webpage after selecting a station.

Shortly after I posted this, Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant sent me an email to point out that NOAA’s numbers need to be corrected by subtracting 7.94, because NOAA uses a different baseline than we commonly use in this area. That would place the record in Seattle at 14.5 feet, much closer to what we may see tomorrow. I should have known that something was amiss with that data. For more on this point, check out Jeff’s blog, Sea Life. 

King Tides will continue through this week, declining slightly each day, then will return on Jan. 14.

I’m certainly not hoping for high water levels, but where they occur it would be great to have some photos. Feel free to send them to me at cdunagan, as well as uploading to the Flickr page called “Washington King Tide Photo Initiative.”

Washington leading on ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is hitting Washington’s shellfish industry even before we begin to experience the full effects of climate change, and Gov. Chris Gregoire placed this state in the forefront of action Tuesday when she signed an executive order on the issue.

The order supports the findings of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Check out the story I wrote for yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The panel released the report during an hour-long presentation of the findings. If you have time, I recommend watching the informative presentation, provided by TVW in the player at right.

The executive summary of the report, as well as the full report, its appendices and the governor’s order, can be downloaded from panel’s webpage on the Washington Department of Ecology website.

Gregoire’s order is considered the first state-level action on ocean acidification — and that has attracted attention from across the country. For example, stories were written by environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and by Virginia Gewin of Nature magazine.

Ocean acidification has been called the “evil twin” of global warming, because the effects can be more swift and more severe than gradual warming of the Earth. That’s not to discount other serious effects of climate change, including increased frequency of severe storms, sea level rise with increasing flooding, and heat waves with crippling effects on agriculture. But acidification affects organisms at the base of the entire food web.

The effects of ocean acidification will not be reversed for a long, long time, even if greenhouse gas emissions are brought under control. The upwelling of old water along the coast brings this problem right to our doorstep now and for the foreseeable future.

The shift from coal to natural gas, along with the downturn in the economy, has significantly reduced emissions of carbon dioxide in this country the past couple years, but the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases continue to go up.

“Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general for the World Meteorological Association, in a press release issued yesterday.

The WMA reported that the years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and it appears that 2012 will continue the trend, despite a cooling influence from La Niña early this year.

“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale,” Jarraud said. “But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities.

“The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” he added.

Environmental correspondent Alister Doyle reported today for Reuters that the United Nations Panel on Climate Change now believes that it is more certain than ever that humans are the primary cause of global warming.

In its 2007 report, the panel pegged the certainty at more than 90 percent. Now, it appears likely that the scientists will increase that certainty in the next report in 2013, said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the panel who spoke with Doyle at a climate conference in Qatar.

“We certainly have a substantial amount of information available by which I hope we can narrow the gaps, increase the level of certainty of our findings,” he said, adding that analyses also will increase the predicted rate of sea-level rise.

Meanwhile, the “Draft National Ocean Policy and Implementation Plan” is still undergoing review by the National Ocean Council. The report contains a chapter called “Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification” (PDF 732 kb). That chapter contains some of the same recommendations offered by Washington state’s Blue Ribbon Panel, but the state plan is more specific and comes with a recommended $3.3 million budget to begin work on the problem.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is attempting to derail the plan, saying it creates an unnecessary bureaucracy and asserts federal controls not approved by Congress. Read the news release about House action against the plan.

I have not talked to anyone on the council lately, but it appears that President Obama’s election campaign over the past year effectively derailed any movement on this issue. In his first press conference after the election, he pledged to jump-start the climate-change effort, but no mention was made of the ocean policy. Review the video below at 42:20.

Report examines sea-level rise along the West Coast

I’ve been on vacation this week, but I wanted to offer some brief notes on issues that have grabbed my attention.

First, a new report on sea-level rise along the West Coast is a must-read for anyone interested in climate change. The report, written by a committee of the National Research Council, is well organized to serve all levels of interest. Download the report on the National Academies website.

An initial summary at the beginning of the report provides an intriguing overview of the many factors that went into predicting future sea-level changes. Each chapter summary delves a level deeper. If you read the full report, you’ll gain an understanding of the uncertainty of every assumption that goes into calculating a range of possible scenarios.

According to the report, most of California is expected to experience a sea-level rise of a meter over the next century — greater than the worldwide average.

On the other hand, the change for Washington, Oregon and Northern California is likely to be about 60 centimeters over that same period. That is because tectonic forces are pushing up land masses north of Cape Mendocino in California — possibly faster than the sea is rising.

Over time, ocean levels in the Northwest will rise increasingly faster than uplift of the land, the report predicts. Eventually, a subduction earthquake could drop the land masses by a meter or more, suddenly raising the sea level dramatically in coastal areas.

Robert Dalrymple, who chaired the study committee, said in a news release:

“As the average sea level rises, the number and duration of extreme storm surges and high waves are expected to escalate, and this increases the risk of flooding, coastal erosion, and wetland loss.”

The report discusses effects on nearshore areas along the coast and in various estuaries. Some land areas in Puget Sound are rising while others are falling, which adds to localized variations beyond those caused by the shape and depth of the bays and tidal marshes.

Amusing Monday: Climate and strange politics

The North Carolina Legislature is taking action to address climate change. But a bill passed last week has generated humor and ridicule, including a segment by Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report.”

As Colbert describes it, the bill would address the coming crisis predicted by climate models by “outlawing the climate models.” The bill, which has since passed the Senate, abandons the idea of using actual predictions of sea level rise in the effort to protect homes from flooding.

The North Carolina Legislature seems to be saying that it is too inconvenient to believe that sea level may rise up to three feet, so we’ll just set the maximum at 8 inches.

Colbert loves this approach:

“This is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved.

“I think we should start applying this method to even more things that we don’t want to happen. For example, I don’t want to die…. If we consider only historical data, I have been alive my entire life. Therefore, I always will be. And if you extrapolate my life from the critical period of age 8 to 18, I will grow to be over 20 feet tall. So I say, bravo, North Carolina.”

Straight-news reporter John Murawski describes the actual effects of the bill in the Winston-Salem Journal:

“The practical result of the legislation would be that for the purposes of coastal development, local governments could only assume that the sea level will rise 8 inches by 2100, as opposed to the 39 inches predicted by a science panel….

“The legislation gives the state Coastal Resources Commission sole responsibility for predicting the rate of sea-level rise to be used as a basis for state and local regulations. The commission’s 15 members are appointed by the governor.

“But the legislation also defines how the Coastal Resources Commission is to decide sea-level rates. Specifically, the law says forecasts can be based on historical data only and can’t take into account non-historical factors. The key factor that’s disqualified is the belief that greenhouse gases are causing climate change and speeding up glacier melts.”

Scott Huler, a blogger with Scientific American, says the legislation is “exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east.”

Huler says he wants North Carolina to pass a law declaring him a billionaire and winner of the Pulitzer Prize with the good looks of George Clooney. He continues:

“You think I’m kidding, but listen to me: I’m from North Carolina, and that’s how we roll. We take what we want to be reality, and we just make it law. So I’m having my state senator introduce legislation writing into law all the stuff I mentioned above. This is North Carolina, state motto: ‘Because that’s how I WANT it to be.’”

Michael Yudell of the Philadephia Inquirer says maybe the NC Legislature was inspired by Superman’s Nemesis Lex Luther, who bought up thousands of acres of land east of the San Andreas fault. Luther’s goal was to trigger an earthquake to submerge coastal cities and leave him with valuable waterfront property.

“Granted,” Yudell writes, “it may take 100 or more years for their own diabolical plan to pay off, but if ice sheets keep falling into the ocean, sea levels may rise faster than predicted just a few years back… In other words, to hell with the science. Let’s have an underwater beach party!”

With these moves, the North Carolina Legislature has formally moved into the camp of those who cannot accept what climatologists are telling them.

Among those who write about climate change, there’s an ongoing debate about what to call these folks. Are they climate skeptics? Climate denialists? Climate contrarians? Climate agnostics? Check out Leo Hickman of “The Guardian” for a discussion about these names.

It probably isn’t fair to lump everyone together. The one thing these folks have in common is swimming upstream against mainstream climatology. But their views are varied, and their members include:

  • those who flat-out deny that our climate is changing,
  • those who believe that our climate is changing but don’t believe humans are to blame,
  • those who believe that climate is changing and humans are to blame, but it’s too late and too expensive to do anything about it, and
  • those who believe that all mainstream scientists are liars, so we should believe only the fringe scientists.

To end on a serious note, our society must find better ways of reaching agreement on actions to address climate change. People are not turning away from the findings of climatologists because they are ignorant or fail to understand the methods of science. Rather it is more of a problem of group thinking, as described by a study reported in Nature magazine. You can read the report, but here’s the final conclusion:

“As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups.”