2016 State of the Climate: The Sobering Data

Today The American Meteorological Society, in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their yearly peer-reviewed “State of the Climate” report detailing the state of the global climate. It is…not positive at all.

You can see the full report HERE. But here are the bullet points:

-The report confirms, via independent datasets that 2016 was the warmest year on record for human observations (most world observations go back to mid-1800s). Not only for Earth’s atmosphere but for the Earth’s oceans.

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-The Earth’s surface averaged 1.06-1.21 degrees C above pre-industrial levels (depending on datasets available). It is the second year in a row the global land and ocean temperature averaged over 1 degree C. The “danger” zone for destructive impacts on human society and ecosystems around the world according to climate scientists is 2 degrees C or higher. Even 1.5 C would begin to have very hazardous impacts.

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-Global carbon dioxide concentration in Earth’s atmosphere (the main greenhouse gas being added by human activity) exceeded 400 part per million on average for the first time ever in human history. Not only that…This is the highest level in Earth’s atmosphere in at least 800,000 years based on data taken from ice cores. For comparison, pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide concentration was approximately 280 ppm (only 150 yrs ago).

-The increase in the yearly average of carbon dioxide by 3.5 ppm from 2015 to 2016 is the largest increase observed in the 58 year history of observations.

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-2016 featured significant portions of land areas suffering from “extreme heat”…heat above the 90 percentile compared to the 1961-1990 average temperature for the location.

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-2016 was the warmest year on record for the ocean, causing major stresses for ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs. Over 90% of global warming heating goes into the oceans (100+ zetajoules (1 x 10^23 joules) since 1993…it takes ~4 joules of heat to warm 1 gram of water by 1 degree C…it takes A LOT of energy to raise the temperature of water).

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-Sea levels are rising nearly everywhere, at different rates. Added water and thermal expansion by the heating of water are both factors. This is the 6th consecutive year of increase.

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-Severe drought impacted at least 12% of the planet’s land area each month of 2016 for the first time in history. (Note: The drought conditions in the Amazon Rain Forest in 2015-16 the third “100-year” event since 2005 with previous events in 2005 and 2010).

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-Arctic sea ice had its lowest winter maximum on record and second lowest summer minimum on record in 2016. The mass of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has ice up to 110,000 yrs old and has the ability to contribute to up to 7 meters sea-level rise is at a record low value.

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-2016 was the 37th consecutive year of worldwide Alpine glacial retreat.

-Across the Northern Hemisphere, snow cover was the 4th least extensive in the 47-yr record.

-Record high temperatures at 20 meters were observed at depth in permafrost observatories in Alaska and Canada.

-The United States had the 2nd warmest year on record in 2016 and the 20th consecutive warmer than normal year.


It’s interesting that this came out today because I was actually just beginning to write the draft to the next in the series of WxClimoEd “Understanding Global Climate Change“. But then this blew up my Twitter LOL. This pretty much gives me a good addition to what I would’ve discussed anyways. So let’s do just that…

It appears to me that we have crossed in the 2015-2017 period some crucial thresholds in the “era” of anthropogenic climate change. We are continuing to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than Earth can remove through natural processes. We are essentially heavily polluting our atmosphere with CO2. Earth itself appears to have become a “1 degree C” world in terms of average temperature and major impacts expected to develop as a result. In addition, while our atmosphere is heating up, our oceans are also taking in incredible amounts of energy, slowly heating up and it’s quite literally cooking our marine life, all while the oceans undergo acidification from the CO2 they are taking in which is also causing harm to ecosystems. Coral reefs are facing this head on along with hundreds of thousands of species with depend on them. This is discussed is in the documentary Chasing Coral, which I reviewed HERE.

This year…2017…continues to see further signs of major problems which were predicted to be likely results of climate change.

-The first six months of 2017 (January-June) was the second warmest on record behind 2016. It is also the second warmest on record for the United States.

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-July saw record heat for the Western US and Alaska including record July or all-time record maximum monthly temps and sea ice within range of the Arctic Ocean coast. Other cities such as Reno, NV and Salt Lake City had their hottest July’s ever. Miami set an all-time record hottest month ever. Death Valley, CA took its wild heat to another level with an average July temperature of 107.4 degrees F making it the hottest month ever recorded in the United States historical record.

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-Arctic sea ice is headed for (yet again) one of its lowest extents in the observational record.

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-Boreal forests continue to burn at an unprecedented rate not seen in the past 10,000 yrs. Most notably significant fires have broken out in Canada and in the peat of the Arctic on the border of the ice sheet on Greenland.

I’ll write more about the IMPACTS of climate change…estimates of global and regional effects that I intended on writing about hopefully later this week in my regular post series. But in short…we really have no time to lose on this. Governments and citizens MUST do what they can…from individual efforts to industry…to get carbon emissions down. The more carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere and higher temperatures rise, the greater the uncertainty as far as resulting phenomena such as climate feedbacks which could either hinder or enhance climate change, the latter of course worsening the situation faster. We as humans, we live our lives and we really have no idea how fragile how our world really is. We must realize how destructive a force we are so we can be constructive to ourselves and our world instead.

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My Review of the Netflix Documentary ‘Chasing Coral’

Saturday night, I watched the Netflix original Documentary ‘Chasing Coral’ for the first time. It chronicles the work of Richard Vevers, an underwater photographer, as he works with scientists to both understand the significance of the recent deterioration of coral reefs over the past four decades; but also how to best capture that process of life to death to better communicate the threat of extinction to a largely oblivious world public.

I personally found this documentary to be extraordinary and disturbing. Both in the incredible destruction caused to the coral reef globally thus far, as well as the logistics required to allow us, the viewer to witness what marine biologists have witnessed over and over again for decades in just a quick time lapse. What they’ve witnessed is death following coral bleaching – the white discoloration of coral as the animals remove photosynthetic algae they depend on for over 90% of their nutrients from their flesh and become transparent, showing their white bones. They later die of starvation.

As they go into some detail in ‘Chasing Coral’, temperatures in the ocean have been rising steadily. This is directly attributable to global warming, the main process of global climate change caused by the human output of carbon dioxide emissions. What many people do not realize is that a vast majority of climate change’s warming is occurring in Earth’s global oceans. Earth is an ocean planet. And unlike the the air and land,  it takes a significant amount more heat energy to raise the temperature of water. With over 90% of the heat radiation being retained initially by our atmosphere is being put into Earth’s oceans, an increase of over 2 degree C (3.6 degrees F) for an enormous amount of water is incredible energy. And these spikes of 2 degree C heating above average beginning in the 1980s is what scientists discovered was the cause of coral bleaching when it was first observed in the early to mid-1980s. Since then multiple global bleaching events have taken place as the oceans have continued to warm.

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‘Chasing Coral’ not only discusses the science of this process, but also shows the emotional toll taken on the scientists who have spent decades studying these beautiful animals and their structures, only to slowly witness their destruction. One older researcher basically says in reference to the dying Great Barrier Reef, “I’m ready to check out” in reference to not having to further witness “the whole ghastly mess” that is the death of such beautiful ecosystems. Depressing, but he reminds a younger researcher he speaks with that as long as they are alive they must continue to fight to protect and save what they love.

If there’s only one nitpick, it’s that the documentary didn’t go into enough detail as to the dangers the rapid collapse of the coral reef ecosystems would have on humans. But it really is a nitpick as 1) there’s only so much one can explain in limited time and 2) the real purpose of this was to illustrate the immediate life to death of the coral reefs themselves. A visual presentation is always more captivating and powerful to the human mind ultimately…and what we are witness really is the first stage of the ecological disaster which will impact humans at the other end of the Tree of Life. The documentary does go into some discussion of the fact that a quarter of ocean life depend in some way on living coral reefs and hundreds of millions of people depend on the ecosystems connected to reefs around the world for food and economic resources. Near extinction of reefs over just the next 20-30 yrs on top of other climate change related stresses from the ocean and atmosphere would be devastating for both dependent societies as well as other species. There is a major reason for nations to be involved in slowing climate change.

I highly recommend this documentary to all willing to watch it. A great use of 90 minutes of your time. I think it’s very important for the general public and other scientists alike to see the effect of climate change on nature and understand how much power we as humans have over it. It’s a power we must be responsible for. The irony of being on top of the pedestal as the most powerful life-form on Earth is that we are one of the last to suffer when things go wrong because we are so powerful and resilient. But, if we are not responsible and are cavalier about how much our world can actually handle from our lack of responsibility and stupidity, we (and other life) will pay. Humans and other life already are. ‘Chasing Coral’ serves as a stark warning with a ray of hope at the end.

Biggest takeaways from ‘Chasing Coral’- Care about your world. Stay educated and inform others.