Science: Earth Climate Observational Data from 2014

July 28, 2015

Scientists from the American Meteorological Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have produced an annual State of the Climate report for each of the last 25 years, many of which have broken records for the hottest year for which data exist.  The report is based on contributions from 413 scientists from 58 countries around the world. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice, and in space.

In 2014, overall “the radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases continued to increase, owing to rising levels of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and other radiatively active trace gases.”  Thomas R. Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said, “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere.”

1981-2010 is considerably warmer than 1950-1980 and the decadal averages show undeniable, continuing increases, but the 2014 temperature anomalies were just as apparent, even looking at 1981-2010 (closer to our warmer temperatures now).  More than 20 — broke high temperature records last year. Much of Europe and Mexico had their hottest years, while Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and much of Africa came close.  “Australia’s annual mean temperature anomaly, with respect to 1961–90, was +0.91°C, making 2014 the third warmest year for the country since national temperature records began in 1910,” the report said. The year before, 2013, was the hottest year on record.  2015 looks to easily break 2014’s global average surface temperature record.  Nearly all of the world is seeing more warm nights and fewer cool nights.

Temperature Conditions in 2014 - anomalies compared to 1980-2010

Sea levels also continued to rise.  “Owing to both ocean warming and land ice melt contributions, global mean sea level in 2014 was also record high and 67 mm greater than the 1993 annual mean, when satellite altimetry measurements began,” the report said.  Sea levels do not rise when icebergs or ice sheets floating in them melt — the water has already been displaced. Melting land ice does make sea levels rise, and this is the cause of sea level rise that most people know. However, the heat being pumped into the oceans from the greenhouse effect not only increases the temperature, it also causes the water to expand, which makes sea levels rise.   Globally, upper ocean heat content reached a record high for the year, reflecting the continuing accumulation of thermal energy in the upper layer of the oceans. Oceans absorb over 90 percent of Earth’s excess heat from greenhouse gas forcing.

Record-breaking storms were powered by hotter ocean temperatures and more humidity (and energy) in the atmosphere, also due to global warming.  “The rate of typhoons that reached super typhoon status in 2014 was 67%, exceeding the previous record rate of 58% in 1970,” the report noted. Usually, only 23 percent of normal typhoons can hit super typhoon intensity each year.

Meanwhile, glaciers are melting much faster than they can be replenished by snowfall.  Melting has accelerated greatly in the last 15 years.  The mass balance of glaciers has plummeted in recent decades.  Last year, for the 31st consecutive year, the world saw no “positive annual balances,” of the water stored by glaciers. “The equivalent depth of water resulting from snow or ice melt” in 2014 was 0.853 meters of water equivalent, now a cumulative mass balance loss pf  16.8 meters since 1980.  Melting has accelerated greatly in the last 15 years.  Arctic snow melt occurred 20-30 days earlier than the 1998-2010 average. On the North Slope of Alaska, record high temperatures at 20-meter depth were measured at four of five permafrost observatories.  On the other hand, the Antarctic showed highly variable temperature patterns.

Glacier loss and mass balance - 2015

Fires have increased as well.  Over a 35-year period, the length of forest fire seasons worldwide increased by 18.7 percent due to more rain-free days and hotter temperatures, according to recent research.  Four independent environmental factors increase the likelihood of wildfires — hotter temperatures, decreased relative humidity, more rain-free days and higher wind speeds.  On all the forested continents, except Australia, the fire seasons are getting longer, Cochrane explained. South America had the largest increase — 33 days in 35 years. In addition, the area affected by the longer fire season has doubled.  The researchers found that the number of rain-free days has increased by 1.31 days per decade.  The same amount of rainfall worldwide is just concentrated in fewer days.” That translates to more dry days when conditions are amenable to burning.

The concentrations of global warming pollutants in the atmosphere continued to break records, as they have in each preceding year.  Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide all hit record concentrations in the atmosphere last year.  The direct radiative forcing from these pollutants, accumulating in the atmosphere, “is 36% greater than their contributions just a quarter century ago.”

NOAA’s latest monthly climate report confirms that 2015 will crush previous global temperature records.  That’s especially true in the northern hemisphere, where the first half of 2015 is a remarkable 0.36°F warmer than the first half of any year since records started being kept 135 years ago.  The oceans are warming faster than predicted.  The increased temperatures and “Arctic amplification,” the replacement of white snow and ice with darker water and ground has meant more heat absorption, which means more melting. More melting allows for more drilling and related pollution, which means more melting.

NOAA-JUNE2015

Records from Exxon and other oil companies show that they have been assuming, planning, and acting on global warming and arctic melting for decades.  For example, Exxon decided against developing a natural gas field in Indonesia in 1981 because of the potentially large carbon dioxide release and associated climate impacts. The company nevertheless spent more than $30m over the next 30 years on think tanks and researchers that promoted climate denial.

Two separate studies published recently in Nature and Nature Climate Change both found that global warming is intensifying several types of extreme weather. California is in the midst of a 1000 year record drought.  Meanwhile, a heat wave is killing thousands of people in India and Pakistan (Pakistan’s heat wave claimed the lives of over 1,300 people and caused another 100,000 heatstrokes); two of the ten deadliest heat waves in world history occurred in 2015.  Another heatwave has been baking Europe, and significant parts of North America are on fire.  The recent Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change report points out “a well-established relationship between extreme high temperatures and human morbidity and mortality.”  The observed weather has been consistent with a line of research connecting the global warming-induced melting of the Arctic with unusual mid-latitude weather patterns, the result of changes in the jet stream.  The IPCC states that the frequency and duration of heat waves worldwide have increased since 1950, and over the past 30 years, the geographic area experiencing extreme summer heat has increased by more than ten-fold.  Climate change made Russia’s 2010 heat wave five times more likely to occur and record breaking high temperatures have outnumbered lows in the US by two to one. (National Climate Assessment, Ch. 2)

More research is warning of climate change causing major threats to ocean ecosystems and consequently to humans as well.  Recent results from MIT’s Center for Global Climate Change suggest a much larger upheaval of phytoplankton — and therefore probably the species that feed on them — than previously estimated, due to warming, carbon uptake in the oceans and consequent acidification.  The paper’s lead author said “I was actually quite shocked by the results. The fact that there are so many different possible changes, that different phytoplankton respond differently, means there might be some quite traumatic changes in the communities over the course of the 21st century. A whole rearrangement of the communities means something to both the food web further up, but also for things like cycling of carbon.  The whole food chain is going to be different.”  A decline in ocean productivity is also expected as warming waters are stratified more strongly and less mixing can take place. If less water from the deep reaches the sunlit top layer, fewer nutrients are available for phytoplankton and primary production — the production of organic material from inorganic carbon for example through photosynthesis — decreases.  The scientists have also found implications for the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to mitigate the effects of global change; less carbon will be exported and stored in the deep. The BBC summarized: “CO2 from burning fossil fuels is changing the chemistry of the seas faster than at any time since a cataclysmic natural event known as the Great Dying 250 million years ago.”

Worldwide, biodiversity loss is now greater than at any time in human history, due to climate change, and humans depend on high levels of ecosystem biodiversity, according to recent research by 62 scientists from 19 countries.

A recent study found that we’re headed towards a climate state similar to those which saw sea levels 6 meters higher in the past.

Social science research has begun to explore social views and the disregard of science.  Such research is showing that most climate ‘skepticism’ actually results not from rigorous scientific skepticism, but rather from conspiratorial thinking.  As the Pope wrote in his recent encyclical: “Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.”

Climate Action Even Produces Net Benefits — Just Not for Fossil Fuel Companies

Countries stand to gain more than they would lose in economic terms from almost all of the actions needed to meet an agreed global warming limit of no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, according to the paper published by two research institutes at the London School of Economics.

It is the latest research to underscore the apparent economic gains from limiting emissions, which include new jobs and improved health, even before the benefits of preventing dangerous climate change are taken into account. “The majority of the global emissions reductions needed to decarbonise the global economy can be achieved in ways that are nationally net-beneficial to countries, even leaving aside the ‘climate benefits’,” says Fergus Green in his paper for the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the LSE.  He cites improved air quality, increased energy efficiency and better energy security among the potential benefits to individual countries that more than justify the costs of cutting carbon emissions.

Furthermore, investments in low-carbon energy are likely to be more than paid back by the falling cost of renewable sources, such as solar and wind, and by reduced spending on fossil fuels, Green predicts. “All things considered, I conclude that there is a very strong case that most of the mitigation action needed to stay within the internationally agreed 2°C limit is likely to be nationally net-beneficial,” adds Green, who is also research adviser to the economist Lord Stern, author of an influential study on climate change.  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/13/benefits-far-outweigh-costs-tackling-climate-change-lse-study