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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WxClimoEd Series, Post #1, Part 1: Understanding Global Climate Change

Hello Weather & Climate News readers! This post will be the first in what will be my ongoing education article series WxClimoEd. I hope to write educational posts on various topics related to weather and climate to help enhance your understanding of various phenomena and their impact on the environment, individuals and society. These posts will present key ideas and concepts and provide occasional linked sources to further, more detailed information.

Understanding Global Climate Change (Causes)

This article will deal with an introductory explanation of Global Climate Change as we currently understand it and the causes of it, specifically relating to human activity. Part 2 (in the next week) will discuss the known (and unknown) impacts on humanity and wildlife based on impacts on regional climates. Part 3 (in a couple weeks) will discuss mitigation efforts.

  1. Natural Climate Variability vs. Recent Global Climate Change

Earth’s climate has been evolving since the planet was born 4.6 billion years ago. These changes in Earth’s atmosphere have been largely the result of things such as biological modification of the atmosphere, volcanic eruptions, changes in ocean currents, movement of continents over tens of millions of years, variations in Earth’s orbit and other various phenomena. The most recent history of climate has featured periods of glaciation over much of the landmasses known as the Ice Ages.

Earth’s global climate has been in a “interglacial” period with a climate which warmed enough to end major continental glaciation around 11,000 yrs ago.

However, what scientists have seen in the recent climate records is a rate of change -both the climate conditions themselves and the atmospheric gases which can change the climate – at a rate accelerated and in some cases unprecedented in previous times.

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Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels going back 450,000 yrs. There have been multiple periods of glaciation and interglacial periods as part of natural change (high/low CO2 = warm/cold), but CO2 has not exceeded much above 300 parts per million until the 20th century. (NASA)

What scientists in the second half of the 20th century discovered is that for the first time in the history of human civilization we are acting as a force influencing the climate. Human-induced climate change is real.

This has been found after accounting for the natural variability in climate cycles and from our understanding of how carbon dioxide works in the atmosphere. This extremely rapid change in global temperatures, a top signal of climate change, has been driven by CO2 pollution, beginning after 1850 and the during the Second Industrial Revolution.

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Graph showing the correlation between global temperatures (anomaly relative to the 1881-1910 average) and CO2 concentration 1880-2016. CO2 is known physically to be capable of “trapping” heat in higher concentration. (Climate Central)

One of the first questions which many non-scientists have about global climate change is “Well hasn’t the climate always been changing?” The answer is yes, but with a caveat…it has NOT changed this rapidly in the history of humanity on Earth (Homo sapiens sapiens have been around ~200,000 yrs). Since Earth began the process out of the last glaciation 22,000 yrs ago, global temperatures have varied up to a 4 degrees C. But this process of variability has occurred over the course of centuries to a couple of millennia because of the long cycling of natural processes. Human activity in the form of burning fossil fuels since the latter 19th century has caused around 1 degree C of warming within a 100-150 yr period. This comic comparing the average temperature of Earth to the end of the Ice Age and achievements of human civilization across millennia strongly illustrate the climate stability we’ve come to flourish under. (zoom in at the top and scroll down…it’s long, but worth the read and look!). Humans have essentially acted as a continuously spewing ‘volcano’ of carbon products. And as a result, we have compressed warming which would take nature nearly a millennia to do in recent geologic time and accomplished it within a century.

We are transforming our world before our eyes.

2. How does the greenhouse effect work?

The greenhouse effect is a simple concept, but one with major implications for us all in this major environmental issue. In Earth’s atmosphere exists gases which are chemically capable of “trapping” heat in the lower atmosphere, heating the surface. The three most significant “greenhouse gases” are carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. These gases in higher concentrations are most effective in reflecting infrared (heat) radiation originally emitted by Earth’s surface back to the surface as opposed to allowing it to be lost to space. If it wasn’t for this greenhouse effect, Earth would be literally completely glaciated over and very cold.

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Example graphic showing the “radiation budget” and how the greenhouse effect impacts how much radiation is retained by Earth’s atmosphere. (By Wikipedia user ZooFari)

Methane is very potent, but short-lived without constant replacement as direct sunlight breaks the molecules apart. Water vapor varies seasonally with some balance because of the water cycle. Therefore carbon dioxide or CO2 ends up being the most important changing variable for warming/cooling the climate. Such changes, along with other variable cycles, have influenced previous periods of ice ages. But human “eruption” of CO2 since the 2nd half of the 19th century has led to clear changes in Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

This YouTube video shows 131 yrs of global warming (1880-2011). The “anomalous temperature” is relative to the average planetary temperature of 1880-1910. The average temperature of Earth has continued to warm above this average to record levels since 2011. The planet is known to have warmed by ~1 degree C (nearly 2 F) since the late 19th century. The most dramatic warming (as can be seen in the video) began to ramp up significantly since 1980. Depending on the scenario, human-induced warming of Earth may reach 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 F) above pre-industrial levels by 2050 and (depending on human efforts to decrease CO2 pollution) the warming may hit 2-4+ degrees C (3.6-7.2+ F) by 2100.

3. The importance the rate of warming

Such rapid rates of warming are what alarms climatologists and those who understand the importance of climate stability for life and society on Earth. Remember the last time you saw a wholly mammoth, saber-toothed cat, wholly rhino, or an indigenous North American horse? Never because they all went extinct from the “rapid” climate change of the final end of the ice age glaciation 11,000 yrs ago. What’s “rapid”? Temperatures warmed more than 2.5 degrees C over the course of 1500 years. We may accomplish that in 150-200 yrs! Incredible. But yet the “rapid” natural changes were not non-consequential. Many more species than listed which couldn’t adapt died out over hundreds to a couple thousand years. And minor variations in global climate by 0.5 degrees C or less – or even significant regional variations which barely showed up on the global signature – have led to major losses in agriculture and economics producing stresses on some nations (poverty, famines, wars) and in some cases, isolated civilizations simply died out. Having such rapid, unprecedented warming is a cause for concern because too many species (and many socio-economic or geographically vulnerable peoples) may face significant harm in the face of an inability to adapt to transforming climate regimes.

In Part 2, later this week, I’ll discuss the effect climate change has on regional climates and likely impacts being faced by humans and wildlife as the climate continues to heat up extremely quickly.

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Is it a Heat Wave or a BBQ Pit? Fires Add Smoke to the Misery

It was VERY smoky in the Northwest Wednesday unfortunately because of major fires in the Interior US and Canada.

Satellite image of Washington State showing abundant smoke over much of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca Wednesday.
Photo from Seattle’s Lake Washington of the sunset view Wednesday evening through the thick smoke haze produced from Canadian fires. (Photo by NWS Seattle on Twitter)

BELOW were the highs Wednesday for select cities. Southwest WA and Western OR are being particularly hit hard by this heat wave. Interior Western WA and Puget Sound were actually sparred some of the worst of the heat today by the smoke; it was thick enough to act as a cloud to dampen the radiation and limit warming in places such as Seattle. It remains to be seen if that will be the case Thursday. If not, the hottest day if the heat may very well be Thursday for Western WA (and about the same for Western OR). This, along with an Air Quality Alert in effect for much of Western WA/OR means those in the area will need to not only be careful with strenuous activity to avoid heat-related illnesses, but also avoid breathing problems, if sensitive to such smoke particulates.

(record highs in red)

WASHINGTON

Seattle (National Weather Service Office): 88

Seattle (International Airport): 91 – Old Record 89 (2009). Special Note: Seattle also shattered its daily record for warmest minimum temperature with a morning low of 69 (old record was 61 set back in 2015) and it ranks as the 2nd warmest daily minimum temperature on record.

Olympia: 91

Hoquiam: 89 – Old Record 81 (1993)

Vancouver: 102

Quillayute (North WA Coast): 98 – Old Record 89 (1993). Special Note: This was likely caused by easterly downslope winds; easterly surface winds flowing along the higher hilly terrain descends down the slopes resulting in “adiabatic heating” (compression heating from increasing pressure on the air molecules as the flow drops in elevation). This hot air blows into town and shoots the temperature up fast. This process occurs throughout the region and is the reason why it is typically a “dry heat” in Western WA/OR during heat waves. The heated air becomes dry, with little moisture added to it.

OREGON

Astoria: 93 – Old Record 88 (1939)

Portland (International Airport): 103 – Old Record 96 (1986)

Troutdale (East Portland Metro): 105 – Old Record 99 (1995)

Hillsboro: 105 – Old Record 99 (1939)

Salem: 107 – Old Record 102 (1939)

Eugene: 102 – Old Record 99 (1939)

Medford: 112 – Old Record 105 (1993)

Klamath Falls: 99 – Old Record 94 (1977)

As you see, for Oregon, there was a major theme in the records for Wednesday’s climate stations. It was the hottest day many of these locations had seen on this date since 1939.

Please be safe if you live in this region the next couple of days. Drink PLENTY of water, take breaks from the heat as necessary, use fans if you don’t have air conditioning (common problem in this region, I lived there without air conditioning and the summers statistically are generally getting warmer because of anthropogenic climate change…), and again, like me, I have asthma; if you don’t need to do anything strenuous outside DON’T! Just drive instead of walk or just stay inside, cool and relax. The slightly cooler weather (still above normal, however) starts Friday.

Heat wave hits Pacific NW this week; A look at Climate Change Impacts on Extreme Heat

If you live in Western Washington and like roasting near 100 degree temperatures, you are and will be getting your wish the next 72 hrs. As powerful upper-atmospheric ridge of high pressure is establishing itself over the West Coast of the US, the combination of clear skies and subsiding (downward moving as opposed to upward rising) air under this high pressure system – subsiding air warms as it sinks – is leading to incredible heat over the interior areas of Western WA/OR and Northern CA.

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Forecast surface temperatures at 5 pm PDT Thursday. Upper-90s near Seattle around 100 in Southwest WA, mid-100s in the Willamette Valley and and Medford, OR area. Eastern WA also hit hard with high heat. (Global Forecast System 11 am PDT Tuesday model run).
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Forecast upper-air map showing the atmospheric wave pattern on the 500 millibar pressure surface (approximately 18,000-18,500 ft over the US) on 11 am Thursday. I added text to show the locations of the ridge relative to its influence on the “extreme heat” (where it is producing 20-25 degree above normal temperatures) over the Pacific Northwest. (Global Forecast System computer 11 am Tuesday model run).

Extreme heat warnings have been issued for virtually ALL OF Washington State, Western Oregon, and much of Northern California.

Shown below are the average high temperatures for today (August 1st) for selected cities in Western WA/OR followed by forecast highs for today-Thurs or Fri. The forecast highs in red are highs which would break the record high for that day.

Seattle, WA-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 77

Forecast Highs (Tues-Fri): 87, 94, 98, 95

Olympia, WA (state capitol)-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 79

Forecast Highs (Tues-Fri): 92, 98, 103, 95

Portland, OR-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 82

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 105, 105 (All-time record high is 107 from 1965/1981)

Salem, OR (state Capitol)-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 84

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 106, 105 (All-time record high is 108 from ’27, ’41, ’81)

According to the 5 pm PDT observation, Salem has reached 100 degrees, exceeding their forecast temp and tying the daily record of 100 degrees for today.

Eugene, OR-

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 84

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 99, 106, 103 (All-time record high is 108 from ’81)

Medford, OR- (edited at 10:40 pm CDT Tuesday to add this city)

Tues, August 1st Average High Temperature: 93

Forecast High (Tues-Thurs): 108, 114, 111 (All-time record high is 115 from ’46)

It’s very possible that for a portion of the Willamette Valley, especially the Central Willamette Valley, Wednesday could be one of the most intense heat days on record!

The worst of the heat for Western WA and Western OR is expected to end after Friday more seasonable to reasonable above normal temperatures this weekend.


One of the most significant impacts of human-induced Global Climate Change are the impact on heat waves. As the average temperature of Earth warms, many local temperature patterns are shifting toward temperatures which are “hot” to “extremely hot” relative to average temperatures in the mid-20th century (typically defined by their standard deviation from the mean temperature for the local area).

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These charts, based on data by NASA climate scientist James Hansen shows the strong deviation in in the bell curve for 2005-2015 local Northern Hemisphere temperatures relative to the same distribution of temperatures in 1951-1980. The trend has been to many more “extremely hot” temperatures and “hot” temperatures have become the new normal in the Northern Hemisphere on average. See full NY Times story HERE

This shift has had implications for impacts on everything from drought to human health such as heat-related illness and vector-borne illnesses. It will continue to do so as carbon dioxide levels continue to climb. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record in observed human history of ~410 parts per million in May of this year, the highest level in at least several million years (and humanity is pumping it into the atmosphere at a rate unseen in the past 65 million years).

At this time, global warming has reached approximately 1 degree C (nearly 2 degrees F) since the early modern Industrial Era (the 1880s). It is statistically known that heat waves, droughts and also heavy precipitation events (because of additional moisture added to a warmer atmosphere) are being impacted directly by climate change.