Arctic Sea Ice Extent Rapidly Decreasing Because of Climate Change; Weather & Climate Implications

Today, NOAA presented the State of the Arctic report at the American Geophysical Union annual conference in New Orleans. The news from the report was devastating for potential weather and climate impacts. Lots of important info to talk about from this! Let’s summarize:

  1. Annual Arctic sea ice extent is the lowest in 1600 years. This is based on proxy data (tree rings, lake sediments, ice cores from the Greenland Ice Sheet). There has been an abrupt decrease in extent during the 20th century (continuing to present). 24991395_10215050817330895_108575701643656859_n
  2. Arctic sea ice extent reached a record minimum in the warm season in 2012. However, 2015-17 witnessed consecutive record low maximum extents in the cold season. 2016 also had the lowest extent on record in November or December. 2017 is also witnessing top two or three low daily extents in November into December, with record low sea ice in the northern Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea (north of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia). Also very notable, sea ice VOLUME (which includes thickness of ice) has continued to suffer with 2015-17 in the top 4 for the lowest volume on record going back to 1979 (and based on decreasing of sea ice extent and thickness, likely much much longer than that). Multi-year ice…ice more than a year old…is now nearly extinct in the Arctic Ocean.

    siv_annual_max_loss_and_ice_remaining
    Arctic Sea Ice Volume since 1979. Note consistent and accelerating collapse of sea ice volume. Arctic ice volume may fall below the 2012 record at some point in the month of September in the next several years.
  3. The Arctic had its warmest year on record in 2016 and its second warmest year on record in 2017 in reliable records. The climate of the Arctic is warming to the point that permafrost is increasingly melting releasing methane and carbon dioxide, methane emissions from what are called methane hydrates (methane gas locked in water ice) are increasing from the very shallow continental shelves surrounding the Arctic Ocean and mid-latitude weather patterns are becoming altered because of reduced sea ice (more on this shortly). The Arctic tundra is also greening at an increasing rate because of rapid warming.
  4. NOAA specifically states that “the Arctic shows no signs of returning to a reliably frozen region of recent decades” because of continued climate change related warming.

Discussion – Leaving the Ice Age Era:

One thing that we must remember about the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean (and the Southern Ocean around Antarctica) is that sea ice is a product of Ice Age eras. Our planet has had a tendency historically to flip between two global climate equilibrium states with dramatically different regional weather and seasonal patterns. The Ice Ages and the Hot House “Jurrasic Park” climates have been the two long-term dominating climate regimes in Earth’s history. One characterized by huge ice sheets and low sea levels, the other characterized by no ice sheets, no sea ice and high sea levels. Human civilization has flourished in the latest interglacial period in the Ice Age era because the climate has remained largely stable for roughly 10,000 years (-1 to +0.5 degrees C relative to mid-20th century climate) and mild enough to for extensive agriculture and settlements.

a-2.earth_temperature_record
Estimated temperature of Planet Earth from 550 million years ago to the end of the 20th century.

But now, because of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) from climate change, we are leaving that stability in the geologic blink of an eye.

globalwarming_projected.jpg.CROP.original-original
Projected rise in global temperature of 4 degrees C/8 degrees F (relative to mid-20th century) during the 21st century relative to the past 10,000 years.

Probably the most important regulars of climate during Interglacials are the “refrigerators” of the north and south…the Arctic Ocean sea ice and Antarctic Ice Sheet (also Greenland Ice Sheet). However, as temperatures warm because of human carbon dioxide emissions trapping heat in the global climate system, that heat warms the atmosphere and ocean, attacking the sea ice by providing excess latent heat of melting. For the Arctic, this reduces the sea ice extent and volume decade after decade. Eventually, it will get to a point, where sea ice will become so thin and tenuous, it will undergo collapse to what has been called a “blue ocean” event with 1,000,000 sq km or less ice at a minimum in September (2012 extent minimum record was 3.41 million sq km). The 2016 and 2017 extent minimums were in the top 10 with 4.14 and 4.64 million sq km, 2nd and 8th respectively. 8 of the top 10 warm season minimum extents (in km) have occurred since 2010 in the now 39 year record. The Arctic Ocean and lower atmosphere are warming and becoming more like the high latitude North Atlantic. Eventually sea ice is expected to disappear completely in the warm season in the Arctic. Some climate scientists have suggested over the past several years that the “blue ocean” event resulting from a collapse of sea ice extent could occur between 2015-2020 or so as multi-year ice has nearly gone extinct, leaving thin ice vulnerable to quick melting and battering waves from cyclones. Computer models have been terrible at dealing with the end of sea ice in the Arctic, suggesting it would stick around into the second half of this century.

Discussion – Weather and Climate Implications:

So why does loss of sea ice matter? Sea ice regulates the climate of the world in multiple ways. It acts as large white surface which reflects most of the shortwave solar radiation from the sun (high albedo). As a result, it keeps the Arctic and Northern Hemisphere (and world) cooler than otherwise. It’s wide physical presence means heat entering the Arctic Ocean goes into melting the ice in the warm season (latent heat of melting; heat goes into phase change of water from solid to liquid) instead of heating the ocean and atmosphere dramatically (sensible heat to change temperature). Losing sea ice ends its presence as a climate regulator, allowing for more abrupt warming of the atmosphere-ocean system and increasing moisture content in the atmosphere (water vapor is an additional greenhouse gas; and increased clouds may reflect some radiation, but also can limit cooling in darkness). In addition, the Arctic Ocean will warm as it is a dark surface (low albedo). Increasing ocean warming in the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean is already leading to increased methane emissions from the shallow continental shelves (as subsea permafrost thaw the clathrates) and more rapid warming will lead to an increase in emissions of methane and carbon dioxide from land permafrost (see discussion by Arctic climate scientist Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University on YouTube). Methane is over 100 times more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a timescale of several years (it dissipates far faster in the atmosphere, but sudden releases can increase warming quickly). And all of these feedbacks will much more quickly destroy the sea ice extent through further warming for a longer period in the warm season until ice disappears completely.

Increased warming of the Arctic also has impacts on mid-latitude weather. There has been research suggesting that the jet stream can be strongly influenced by Arctic warming and sea ice extent (see discussion by Dr. Jennifer Francis on YouTube). This can include a weakening of the upper-level jet stream which depends on the temperature difference between the upper-level mid-latitudes and polar atmosphere (known in meteorology as “baroclinic instability”). This weakening can lead to the jet stream developing high-amplitude waves more frequently, allowing for powerful upper-level ridges of high pressure to develop and cause blocking of the progressive westerly flow. This blocking can cause more frequent stagnant weather for locations, developing droughts in some areas through prolonged dryness, long periods of heavy precipitation in other regions as well as places of very abnormally warm temps (greater extreme summer heat) vs. colder temperatures (but the warmth always significantly outpaces the cold). Increased warming of the atmosphere in general also increases rainfall rates. In addition, paradoxically, while parts of the mid-latitudes may go through below normal temps and cold weather, the powerful ridging can produce extremely abnormally warm temperatures over the Arctic regions, intensifying the warming of the far north.

An identical pattern to this has largely set up over the Northern Hemisphere November into December.

us_model-en-087-0_modez_2017121312_24_5477_449
Powerful high-amplitude ridges over the Eastern Pacific and North Atlantic. Pattern relatively stagnant at this time.
ANOM2m_past30_equir
Reanalysis of the average temperature of Earth and specified regions over the last 30 days (1981-2010 baseline…add 0.7 C to compare to late 19th century). Note extensive, persistent anomalous warmth of the Arctic.

These effects may overall lead to more abrupt warming of the world as a whole as well as (more importantly) changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, relevant for crops and food security from increasing summer extremes (heat stress and heavy rainfall) and water resources (snow pack, groundwater, etc). Also relevant for forest health (destruction by increasing wildfires as well as bug infestations killing hundreds of millions of trees in the Western US). And a running theme in stories on climate change recently? “Faster than expected” or “Faster than previously thought”. The importance of Arctic sea ice cannot be overstated and, unfortunately, this major tipping point…which I would consider a “keystone” tipping point because of what effects it can have down the line on other parts of the climate system…seems to be on the brink. It has been 2.6 million years since significant sea ice did not regularly exist in the warm season in the Arctic Ocean.

The statistics of weather has already changed significantly because of global warming with far more extreme heat events, drought periods and heavy precipitation events than in the mid-20th century (see presentation by Dr. Aaron Thierry on shift to more extreme weather conditions; starts 12:30 min, recommend watching through 20:30 min; also see discussion of climate change on increasing extreme events by Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf). Going past tipping points far earlier than expected by climate models will increase the likelihood for far more extreme weather events as weather patterns and circulations change (in some cases difficult to predict ways). Clearly, the world still needs adequate mitigation and adaptation measures to deal with these rapid and possibly abrupt changes.

For more info into how climate change influenced global extreme weather events in 2016, see the latest report (issued today) by the American Meteorological Society with attribution studies on last year’s significant events.

–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

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Opinion: Climate Change Communication

 

I may, perhaps, be providing a less popular view or one which isn’t the “flavor of the week”. But I’ve been hearing a lot of people recently in science discussing the communication of climate change. There has much criticism of how some have chosen to communicate. Examples: Statements considered “dire”; assuming moral or intellectual superiority if someone disagrees with the most sound parts  of the science; being condescending, etc.

First off…I do agree with the idea that people need to treat people right and fair. Do not treat people like they are less than you or unnecessarily scare them into submission. We need to communicate what we know and how we understand it and listen to what people have to say.

But with that said…

The science of climate change (and it’s main mechanism…global warming) has been gaining scientific ground since the 1970s. The understanding of the greenhouse effect and carbon dioxide goes back to the mid-1800s. I was born in 1984. Climate scientist James Hansen went before Congress in 1988 to give the realities of what climate change means. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the UN was formed in 1988. It’s 2017. The climate of Earth has warmed dramatically since then and as a result we are witnessing impacts on our world from more extreme meteorological and climatological events, extinction rates 1000 times higher because of humans with a possible mass extinction event underway in the biosphere and millions around the world and increasingly direct impacts on human health. Meanwhile too many deny what is happening because data isn’t enough. And in many cases, many of the people we are trying to convince are not only disinterested in learning, but have a sharp anti-intellectual bent based on politics or even religion. I have no problem with people being politically conservative or religious, but that is the reality of who most of the “deniers” are. So are we not supposed to call out people who are grossly thinking irrationally or being outright deniers (not skeptics, skeptics can be convinced) in order to protect their feelings and “hopefully” convince them we are correct? Climate scientists are routinely attacked by denier politicians and on social media and their reputations dragged through the mud. Hell, even threatened. Who speaks up for the integrity of the science and scientists while we all sit around trying to be nice and protect the feelings of people who are not interested in what we have to say, respectful or not?

fire
Southern California Wildfires in Dec. 2017.

I guess the reason I’m rather sharp about this is because I think Americans largely discuss this topic from a position of privilege. In America, climate change is still a joke for many or largely downplayed. “Look at all this snow, I guess they got 5 inches of global warming hahaha”. “I get climate change is an important issue, but do people really think it’s as important as [insert political issue here]”. And other various statements. I think there are two issues at work here.

A woman wades through a flooded village in the eastern state of Bihar
Extreme river flooding in Bihar, India in August 2017.
  1. In the US, we are dealing with the impacts of climate change, but we (generally) still have the resiliency to face what’s happening. In the developing world, this is not the case. There have already been significant increases in extreme events relative to the mid-20th century (droughts, fires, heavy precipitation leading to issues such as increased property destruction, even more importantly, crop failures putting more people at risk of undernourishment). And in some places, there’s sea level rise becoming a problem. In the developing world, this is not a game, or a joke or something to be denied. It’s in their face. Even if individual event/event types can’t be conclusively attributed to climate change, understanding climate change is a *systemic* process of our climate heat engine, adding more energy can cause more extremes across many categories. How much to developing nations realize these growing extremes? They’ve realized it enough to basically demand the industrialized nations who have caused a vast majority of the warming of Earth via 20th century emissions, to work to limit warming to as low as possible and pay for their mitigation measures. Unfortunately, they are largely ignored because their countries are small and not economically influential enough (Paris Agreement basically is business-as-usual lite), so the world is failing and they will suffer the worst impacts of global failure first.
  2. Climate change is to outright deniers “something that’s always happening” or even to many of those who understand the basic science a more significant concern of the future. 2100 comes up a lot. Or perhaps “We have 10 years” which was since the late 1980s. How many times can we have 10 years to seriously discuss these problems? Climate change is happening now and changes *are* going to accelerate and be abrupt as we move forward. How can we discuss these issues if too many people think they know better than a PhD with 30 years of research experience? If the PhDer asserts in a blunt manner that they know better, we might think that’s intellectual superiority and unfair assumption as we all have different experiences beyond education. And technically that’s true…but if one is degrading someone because they are educated and they trust what they see over data, can we call it what it is? Anti-intellectualism and in some cases even moral superiority as it may be based on religion or politics is just as bad if not worse to our society than anything. This is clearly something anyone can be out of line on.
  3. Us “intellectuals” seem to be having debates about how to best communicate climate change. We should talk about the worse case scenarios, should be have lots of hope and solutions, this and that. My view? Tell the truth! How can we do anything about climate change if people do not actually have an appreciation of what we are facing in terms of how it can directly harm human society and our biosphere? I’ve noted that even many outside of climate science do not fully appreciate what is happening now and how bad it could be. The “worse-case” is not…it is the path we are on in all of its unpleasantness unless we make the necessary changes needed. Every time I hear “stop being alarmist” I hear “don’t tell the truth”. It’s not being alarmist to discuss alarming things. This used to be an issue in meteorology. The US didn’t used to issue tornado warnings for fear of causing panic and freezing people up. Well, they didn’t know what was coming and were target practice for tornadoes smashing their towns. Yes, provide actionable info. “Go here to learn more”, “Vote for politicians who care about you and your children’s health and prosperity”…connect climate change’s shift to more extreme conditions to extremes which have already occurred and discuss how they will become normal as new extremes appear. “Yes we’ve always had droughts, but these droughts will come in more rapid succession, which is why we must have mitigation policies to prevent this from happening”. Tell people how these changes are already happening. Give people options how to act, but be real, otherwise, why should they be concerned about the issue? Especially when we as scientists get more bogged down about how everything supposedly gets attributed to climate change vs. simply providing a strong message about the seriousness of the situation, especially NOW, not just the future.
5_2_13_news_andrew_co2800000yrs_1050_591_s_c1_c_c
Carbon Dioxide concentration history over 800,000 years.

Respect goes both ways and if I’m going to respect the views of someone who doesn’t automatically agree with the science, I expect that person to respect my views and intelligence. Otherwise, I won’t trash that person, but I will move on. Some (and perhaps most) people are NOT looking to be convinced. And that’s something science communicators have to face. Not just trying to respectful, but also respecting yourself and not allowing lack of openness, compromise or cognitive dissonance stand in your way to providing knowledge. I’ve learned this from my experience as a meteorologist who are used as target practice all the time for supposedly being wrong 50% of the time (we are quite accurate), or anger over warnings (which have saved thousands of lives over decades). Climate change communicators should be respectful, be blunt, say things the way it is (consensus and personal scientific view), but not afraid to respectfully point out incorrect views and statements they KNOW are wrong and not afraid to move on if someone doesn’t want to listen. Most people will or will not figure it out on their own time, anyways.

emission-scenarios
Carbon Dioxide emissions scenarios and projected temperatures based on climate models. The world is on the business-as-usual path-RCP 8.5 for global average temperature near 4.5 degrees C/8.1 degrees F. The Paris Agreement would likely yield a temperature by end of century of over 3 degrees C average/5.4 degrees F globally. But nasty impacts are already happening now with temp near 1.2 degrees C/2.2 degrees F.

Oh and more thing. If you don’t regularly even attempt to communicate climate change to people, don’t lecture others on how they should do it. I particularly don’t want to hear the “Now is not the time to talk about climate change” meme. I discuss these issues to people whenever I can and have encountered this criticism. If you have a problem with how its done, do it and do it better. It’s actually one of my motivations for creating this site. People who care about these issues care about the seriousness of it and the people and animals it is and will harm further. Trust me, communication is even more challenging than you believed and chances are you do not understand just how serious it is even if you think you do or even some of the latest science, which is evolving rapidly. The focus needs to be on helping the citizenry be educated on these issues so we have a healthy planet as well as defending our integrity from those who would diminish our importance in informing society.

–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

(pictured at the top is a version of the famous “hockey stick” temperature curve by Mann 1999).

Very above normal temperatures dominating US to end November

Much above normal temperatures are dominating much of the United States right now. This is largely a product of a zonal or progressive jet stream moving along the northern tier states and southern Canada locking colder air over interior Canada and the Arctic (although, I note, the Arctic is seeing much above normal temperatures relative to what they should be seeing as well!).

My area…Eastern Nebraska…has been seeing many days of 60s and even mid-70s, including today. The average temperatures this time of year should be in the low to mid-40s for highs and near 20 for lows. Instead it’s been feeling like it’s around birthday time for me. My birthday is in May.

GFS-025deg_NH-SAT1_T2_anom
Global Forecast System model analysis of surface air temperature anomalies for November 27th. The GFS tends to have a minor warm bias from reality, but it is accurate is showing significant above normal temps over the western and central sections of the United States. The baseline normal period is 1979-2000, prior to the significant amplification of climatic warming in the Arctic (occurring because of anthropogenic global warming).
gfs_namer_048_250_wnd_ht
Global Forecast System model forecast depiction of upper-air wave pattern at 250 millibars (~10,200 meters/33,500 ft) valid Wednesday morning. The jet stream will remain largely over the northern tier and southern Canada this week with above normal temps of varying departures over the US.

As we move into the first week of December, trends point to some dip in the jet stream over the Western US early next week causing below normal temperatures. However, this will also amplify the jet stream over the eastern two-thirds, producing significantly above normal temperatures yet again.

One additional thing of note. Snow cover is virtually non-existent in the contiguous US today (Nov. 27th). Only 4% of the CONUS has snow cover today. Going back to 2003, this is lowest snow cover extent for this particular date. The second and third lowest for Nov. 27th were 8.7% (2009) and 10.2% (2011). The snow cover area extents on Nov. 27th in 2010, 2012-2015 were in the range of 20-35%. 2016 was fairly low at 15.4%. The data is available HERE.

nsm_depth_2017112705_National
Snow depth analysis map for the US and southern Canada for November 27, 2017.

I don’t know date prior to 2003, however it is known that climate change is reducing snow cover extent and depth in the US and the Northern Hemisphere beyond natural variability. The aforementioned trough in the West should increase that extent somewhat next week.

The Realities of Progress on Climate Change Discussed at COP23

I found this discussion forum posted on YouTube with Dr. James Hansen and felt the need to share. Hansen is known as the “father of global warming awareness” since his testimony on the problem before Congress in the late 1980s and frequent contributions in both peer-reviewed literature and as a science communicator to the general public. This talk was posted just today from the latest international climate talks (Conference Of the Parties-23 or “COP-23” in Bonn, Germany) dealing with getting down details behind the Paris Climate Agreement signed the world’s nations in 2015 to try to limit global warming below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) relative to 1750 and preferably below 1.5 C (2.7 F).

Here is the video (by user Nick Breeze who reports on Climate Change issues and interviews scientists…check out his YouTube Channel, good stuff)…audio isn’t the greatest but it is still highly recommended if you care about this important issue.

In this discussion, Hansen pretty much lays out a major problem. With all the talks over the years, nothing significant has been done to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses into Earth’s atmosphere. He points out something which other notable climate scientists have pointed out: We have run out of time as far as waiting on attempting to prevent “catastrophic warming” as far as impacts (those impacts really pick up intensity past 1.5 degrees C…we are currently around 1.1-1.2 C over the past few years) and while there are efforts to create alternative energy solutions and research carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere, the only viable way he sees to get nations off of carbon is for govts to force the cost of fossil fuels to reflect the harm it causes to ecological and human health (pollution, climate change, etc). He’s spoken about how this could be done to put much of the money back in the pockets of Americans in the American political context (where the greatest monetary loss would likely be to the rich with a huge carbon footprint). But having the true ecological and human cost of fossil fuels…and not just the benefit in terms of driving the common economic drivers…be added to the cost would allow much greater competitiveness in the energy industry vs. now where fossil fuels are still by far the cheapest energy available for a variety of reasons (relative ease to extract, transport, existing technology vs. building new). And with oil companies influencing govts around the world, it makes it very hard to see realistic change outside of the pledges or changes which seem significant but in the end do little good on a global scale.

Example…current Paris Agreement pledges would cause the global warming to reach at least 3-4 degrees C (5.4-7.2 F) by the last decades of this century. And there are risks of unpredictable “positive feedbacks” (some known, some unknown) such as, severe chronic Arctic sea ice loss in the summer months, mass diebacks of tropical and boreal forests or methane release from (shallow) submerged continental shelf permafrost in the Arctic Ocean which would accelerate global warming even more. Methane…a short-lived but extremely powerful greenhouse gas…has already been observed releasing at increasing rates in the East Siberian Arctic Ocean and Laptev Sea because of increasing ocean warming. There is also simply the possibility that Earth overall is more sensitive to carbon dioxide than originally thought (actual scientific paper HERE).

I made this blog partly for informing people about the realities of climate change as it is ultimately we who must make sound decisions and force our governments to do the same. These conferences and agreements are great (and obviously I disagree with President Trump’s position on the issue), but optics cannot be the only thing which comes out of all these COPs. We must have an evolutionary change in how we conduct business on our only habitable planet. There are means to turn the tide…but the political will (and money) have to be invested in actually doing it.

–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

Key Findings of the US Government’s Climate Science Special Report

Today, the US Global Climate Change Research Program released the Climate Science Special Report, Vol. 1 of the Fourth National Climate Assessment mandated by Congress to provide the latest scientific basis and impacts from climate change on the United States. Climate science continues to evolve, but in the direction of more significant realization of how humans have influenced the climate thus far, as well as how much more influence will come in the not to distant future.

Below are some of the headline findings provided in the rather powerful report (be prepared for a lot of INTENSE info):

    1. Earth’s average temperature has increased by 1 degree C (1.8 F) during the 1901-2016 period. This is faster than any rate known in the last 1,700 years.                 2017TempUpdate_Top10_Global_F_en_title_lg
    2. The average temperature of the contiguous United States has also increased by 1 degree C (1.8 F) during the 1901-2016 period. Satellite and surface observations are consistent in the detection of this rapid rise in temperature. With no change in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the CONUS is expected to experience a more abrupt average rise in temperature of 3.2-6.6 degrees C (5.8-11.9 F) between now and 2100.                                                                                 
      figure6_1
      Change in average surface temperature (annual and seasonal) for the period 1986-2016 since the period 1901-1960 (contiguous US; 1925-1960 for Alaska and Hawaii). Data from NOAA.

      figure6_8
      Projected changes in the coldest and warmest daily temperatures (°F) of the year in the contiguous United States. Changes are the difference between the average for mid-century (2036–2065) and the average for near-present (1976–2005) under the higher emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Maps in the top row depict the weighted multimodel mean whereas maps on the bottom row depict the mean of the three warmest models (that is, the models with the largest temperature increase). Maps are derived from 32 climate model projections that were statistically downscaled using the Localized Constructed Analogs technique. Increases are statistically significant in all areas (that is­­, more than 50% of the models show a statistically significant change, and more than 67% agree on the sign of the change). Data by NOAA.
    3. Temperature extremes in the United States are trending significantly toward record high temperatures over record low temperatures. This trend is expected to continue with the number of below freezing days also continuing to decline and days above 32 degrees C (90 F) continuing to rise.
      figure6_5
      Data by NOAA.

      figure6_9
      Projected changes in the number of days per year with a maximum temperature above 90°F and a minimum temperature below 32°F in the contiguous United States. Changes are the difference between the average for mid-century (2036–2065) and the average for near-present (1976–2005) under the higher scenario (RCP8.5). Maps in the top row depict the weighted multimodel mean whereas maps on the bottom row depict the mean of the three warmest models (that is, the models with the largest temperature increase). Maps are derived from 32 climate model projections that were statistically downscaled using the Localized Constructed Analogs technique. Changes are statistically significant in all areas (that is, more than 50% of the models show a statistically significant change, and more than 67% agree on the sign of the change).
    4. The global influence of natural variability is limited to small fraction of observed climate trends. Solar output and the Earth’s internal natural variability have contributed only marginally to the observed changes in the climate system over the past century. There is no convincing evidence for natural cycles in the observational record that could explain the changes in the climate system.                                                                                                                                                         
    5. Heavy precipitation events have increased across the US since 1901. The highest increase over the Northeast and the second highest increase over the Midwest.                                                                                                                                2017ClimateExtremes_Downpours_3_en_title_lg
    6. Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover, North American maximum snow depth and Western US snow-liquid equivalent have all declined since the early 20th century. At current rates of decline and assuming no change in water resource management, chronic, long-duration hydrological drought conditions are possible for portions of the United States by 2100.                                                                                                                                                                                               
    7. Global mean sea-level has risen 7-8 inches (~0.2 m) since 1900 with 3 of those inches since 1993. Relative to the year 2000 is very likely global mean sea-levels will rise up to 0.6 ft (0.18 m) by 2030, 1.2 ft (0.38 m) by 2050 and 4.3 ft (1.3 m)+ by 2100. A more rapid degradation of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may mean physically possible sea level rise theoretically exceeding 8 ft (2.4 m) by 2100 (confidence is low on this).                                                                                                                2016StateOfClimate_SLR_en_title_lg
    8. The global ocean has absorbed more than 93% of the heat caused by global warming since the mid-20th century. The oceans have warmed by about 0.7 degrees C (1.3 F) during the 1900-2016 period. Assuming no emissions changes, warming of the oceans by an average of 2.7 degrees C (4.9 F) is expected by 2100.                                                                                                                                       2016StateOfClimate_HeatStorage_en_title_lg
    9. The global ocean continues to undergo rapid acidification because of dissolved carbon dioxide from atmospheric emissions. The rate of acidification is unparalleled in the past 66 million years (since the Cretaceous-Paleogene Impact Event). At the current rate, the pH of the global ocean may decline from its current average of 8.1 to as low as 7.8 by the end of the century. Seawater with pH <8 can be corrosive to shellfish, plankton and coral which depend on carbonate structures for their shells, backbones and skeletons. The greatest change in acidity will be in Arctic Ocean.

      figure13_5-1200
      Predicted change in sea surface pH in 2090–2099 relative to 1990–1999 under the higher scenario (RCP8.5), based on the Community Earth System Models–Large Ensemble Experiments CMIP5 (Figure source: adapted from Bopp et al. 2013 ).
    10. The Arctic is warming at a rate approximately twice as fast as the global average with a rapid decline in sea ice volume and extent since satellite observations began in 1979. At the current rate of warming, the Arctic Ocean will be effectively ice-free in the month of September by the 2040s.                       

      siv_annual_max_loss_and_ice_remaining
      Arctic Sea Ice Volume since 1979. Note gradual and accelerating collapse of sea ice volume. Arctic may fall below 1,000 cubic kilometers at some point in the month of September in as early as several years to a decade or so. This will happen when the yearly sea ice maximum and loss of what remains equal.
    11. Global warming has contributed “significantly” to ocean-atmosphere variability in the North Atlantic Ocean; as a result these changes have contributed to the observed upward trend in North Atlantic hurricane activity since the 1970s. North Atlantic hurricanes are expected to increase in intensity (maximum sustained wind potential) with increasing precipitation rates during the 21st century.                                    2017Hurricanes_Info_en_title_lg

      figure9_2-1200
      Tracks of simulated Saffir–Simpson Category 4–5 tropical cyclones for (a) present-day or (b) late-21st-century conditions, based on dynamical downscaling of climate conditions from the CMIP5 multimodel ensemble (lower scenario; RCP4.5). The tropical cyclones were initially simulated using a 50-km grid global atmospheric model, but each individual tropical cyclone was re-simulated at higher resolution using the GFDL hurricane model to provide more realistic storm intensities and structure. Storm categories or intensities are shown over the lifetime of each simulated storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale. The categories are depicted by the track colors, varying from tropical storm (blue) to Category 5 (black; see legend). (Figure source: Knutson et al. 2015; © American Meteorological Society).
    12. Large forest fires in the Contiguous US and Alaska have increased since the early-1980s. This increase is expected to continue with “profound” impacts on ecosystems.                                                                                                                           2016Wildfires_temp_WEST_en_title_lg

Some other findings of note:

-For the period 1901-2016, the Dust Bowl Era (mid-1930s) remains the most extreme era for heat. This is thought to be largely the result of significant land-surface feedbacks caused by precipitation deficits and poor land management leading to reduced vegetation and strong surface heating (which in turn promoted further drying and land degradation). However, we are on a path to eclipse this period in US climate history in the coming decades, particularly as colder conditions (more found in 1930s winters for example) continue to decline in a warming climate and extreme heat continues to increase.

-The Climate report explains (as has been explained in previous scientific literature) the period of so-called “global cooling” which occurred from the mid-1940s to mid-1960s: aerosol particles generated by WWII and post-war industrial production (esp. coal power plants) which reflected some solar radiation into space temporarily slowing long-term global warming, even as carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere continued to increase.

-The report notes that annual precipitation has decreased over the West, Southwest and Southeast, while increases have occurred over the Plains, Midwest and Northeast. They specifically mention an increase in mesoscale convective systems (organized clusters of thunderstorms which dump significant rainfall) over the Plains and Midwest since 1979. Mesoscale convective systems are expected to increase in frequency and intensity during the 21st century.

-While tornado climatology related to climate change has been difficult to understand because of the reliability of storm reports before the 1990s, scientists involved in the report have concluded one interesting aspect…there is moderate confidence in a decrease in tornado days (day when tornadoes of any number are confirmed), as tornadoes are increasing on those days. Greater volatility in tornado occurrence year-to-year as well as a trend toward an earlier first occurrence during the year have been observed. Studies looking at the ingredients for severe storms with all modes of potential activity (tornadoes, hail, wind) suggest an increased frequency and intensity of severe storms over areas prone to them in the US in a warmer world, but confidence on details is low.

-This report concluded that observed drought and precipitation increases (1901-2016) cannot be confidently attributed human-induced global warming. The Dust Bowl Era remains the benchmark period for extreme drought conditions. However recent negative trends in soil moisture are believed to be attributable to warming temperatures. Although soil moisture projections in climate models are still considered in their “elementary” stages in the science, based on what is known, there appears to be a signal for further decreases in soil moisture over portions of the US (particularly West and Plains) by the end of this century, increasing the risk of chronic hydrological drought.

-I find the key finding #11 I listed particularly important. There has been much debate between scientists (particularly more observational minded meteorologists vs. climatologists) about whether there has been truly observable increase in N. Atlantic hurricane activity seasonally beyond the natural variability, given the limited period of reliable satellite record and intensity measurements. This statement is given MODERATE confidence given that global warming has caused increases in sea-surface temperatures, oceanic heat content and natural cycles on multi-annual and multidecadal time scales involve changes in not only these thermodynamic variables but also dynamic ones in response (vertical wind shear, position/intensity of monsoon troughs, development of tropical waves into organized TCs).

Additional Thoughts:

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Climate change will likely be one of the most difficult challenges the world will face this century (at least). Why? Why should we care?

When it comes to effects on people (which is what people care about), at the end of the day, what matters for the livelihood of people rich or poor? Food, water, living space. If these become challenged, you get human suffering (from economic to health threats) and geopolitical problems. The potential for significant drying and increasing chronic hydrologic droughts from loss of snowpack will lead to increasing populations in demand for resources seriously straining water resources. Crops around the world will face increasing difficulties from heat stress, prolonged droughts mixed with periods of more intense heavy rainfall events. Acidification and warming may threaten marine food resources already strained by overfishing around the world. Living space will become slowly threatened by sea level rise in low-lying areas and island nations…and more readily in the coming decades…by repeated far more extreme heat waves than previously in already hot, humid environments where cooling is not readily available, and possibly by diseases as ecosystems shift to different places, along with pests (which will also impact crops potentially).

Climate change isn’t just about warming, it’s about cascading impacts on the whole of the climate system. Without a drastic global shift to a low-carbon energy sources and the advancement of technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, we are in store for a very challenging period in human history. This isn’t worse-case/best case or any of this. This is simply the path that we are on, no over-dramatic statements nor downplaying needed or tolerated. Hopefully we via our governments make the right choices.

–Meteorologist Nick Humphrey

Biggest WxClimo Story of 2017…Wildfires.

Fires have been raging across the world this year with unprecedented scope. Major wildfire outbreaks have been notable from tropical rainforests in Africa and South America to the taiga of Canada and Russia. Even Greenland has seen an unusual amount of fire activity on the edge of the ice sheet. This year, Western North America, and the Iberian Peninsula of Europe have been particularly hard hit with life-threatening fires (see HERE, HERE, and HERE). Although fires occur every year with variable impacts, a significant upward trend can be tied to climate change allowing both natural and human activity to ignite and expand the destructive intensity of wildfires.

This video by Climate Central summarizes the impacts of these fires so far this year and their connection of climate change. This recent article by The Observer also summarizes fires around the world and the impacts of climate change.

 

(The featured satellite image above is from October 9, 2017 courtesy of the European Space Agency).

WxClimoEd Series, Post #1, Part 2: Understanding Global Climate Change Indicators

Hello Weather & Climate News readers! This post will be the first (Part II) 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 (Indicators)

In Part 2 of this article series on Global Climate Change, I’ll discuss the indicators of climate change in progress on  Earth. Even without the global measurements of temperature, there are plenty of signs in the climate system that change toward a warmer world is in progress.

IMG_3897

Earth Undergoing Abrupt Climate Change

While global warming is considered to be detectable since the First Industrial Revolution (after 1750), since the latter half of the 20th century, the environment has begun to exhibit what could be considered “abrupt” changes. Among scientists who study natural abrupt change in the paleoclimate records have had some common thought on what “abrupt” means: 1) Changes in climate which can be witnessed within a human lifetime and 2) the change is very nonlinear; it far exceeds the mechanism which initiated the change in the first place (See this video presentation by Dr. White at the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting discussing past abrupt climate change in the paleoclimate record). In the past, abrupt change usually occurred as a result of the advance or recession of ice sheets, leading to rapid change in local temperature or regional circulations (or even global distributions of precipitation or temperature patterns). Today, abrupt change is being increasingly witnessed as a result of an already unnaturally fast mechanism (rapid rise in carbon dioxide concentration, resulting in rapid rise in global temperatures relative to natural variability…multi-decadal to centennial  scales vs. multi-millennial).

Here are just some of  the abrupt changes resulting from the changing climate happening now:

  1. Decline in sea ice over the Arctic Ocean

siv_annual_max_loss_and_ice_remaining
Arctic Sea Ice Volume since 1979. Note gradual and accelerating collapse of sea ice volume. Arctic may fall below 1,000 cubic kilometers at some point in the month of September in as early as several years to a decade or so. This will begin the process toward widespread open ocean in the Arctic for a time in September.
2. Rapid increase in air temperature of the Arctic.

The Arctic (64-90N) has warmed around 3-4 degrees C since the 1881-1910 period (based on NASA data). 2-3 degrees C of warming has occurred just since the 1951-1980 period with notable warming since the year 2000. This has led to not only the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice, but the beginning the melting of land permafrost.

temps
Average air temperatures (over land and ocean) in the Arctic region, relative to 1951-1980 average. Shown is 1984 (year I was born) to 2016. Red box show rapid warming of Arctic since 2000 compared to previous decades. “315” = +3.15 degrees C anomaly. (NASA GISS)
Addendum: The rise in the average temperature of Earth as a whole can count as abrupt, as seen in the earlier graph (farther back up). Most warming has occurred since the 1970s. The top ten warmest years on record going back to 1880 have occurred since 1998 (with 1998 now the last year in the top ten from the 20th century). 2017 is expected to be the 2nd warmest year on record just slightly behind 2016.


3. Increase in Sea Surface Temperatures and Oceanic Heat Content of Global Ocean.

The average sea-surface temperature of the global ocean from 60S-60N has risen around one degree C since the 1881-1910 period. 0.5 degrees C warming has occurred since 1980. Like the global air temperature, SSTs have been most of their record warm years since the turn of the 21st century, with an accelerated pace of warming since 2000 (1.62 degrees C/century currently, compared to 1 degree C/century 1950-2000). 2017 sea surface temperatures are currently running the 2nd warmest on record (NOAA data).

ssts
Sea surface temperature anomalies 1880-2016 for various sectors of global ocean. Values on graph are in degrees F. Oceans have warmed roughly 2 degrees F/1 degree C.
As far as oceanic heat content, the oceans have accumulated over 100 zetajoules (1 x 10^23 joules) of heat energy in the upper 700 meters of the global ocean since 1993. An incredible amount of energy, with increasingly accelerated warming in the deep ocean below 700 meters since 1993.

4. Acidification of the Global Ocean.

Earth’s seawater is slightly basic (basic is ph > 7). The global average ph of the oceans has decreased from 8.25 to 8.069 since the 1750s (ph was 8.104 in the 1990s). This is caused by the oceans dissolving carbon dioxide (30-40% of carbon dioxide released by humans dissolves in the oceans). This interaction forms carbonic acid, with further chemical reactions leading to increasing concentrations of the hydronium ion (H+). This leads to a lowering of the ph. The rate of acidifcation is faster than at anytime in the past 300 million years! The rapid acidification has been more pronounced in the Arctic Ocean because of very cold water (colder water can absorb more dissolved gases). When ph falls under 8 in the coming decades (assuming no mitigation), marine life which depend on carbonate structures (shellfish, sea snails, corals, some types of plankton, etc) begin to suffer from the corrosive effects of less basic waters.

5. Sea Level Rise

rate-of-sea-level-rise-accelerating

Sea levels are rising as a result of meltwater from land and thermal expansion as oceans warm. As the atmosphere and oceans continue to warm and weaken the Arctic and Antarctic Ice Sheets, sea levels will continue to rise, with possible nonlinear positive feedbacks accelerating it. It has already accelerated since the end of the 20th century. “King Tides” have become an increasing problem because of sea level rise in the 21st century.

6. Increase in Extreme Weather and Climate Events

The end of the 20th century into the early 21st century has featured a statistical increase in extreme weather events. Climatologists usually classify “extreme” as being 4-5+ standard deviations from the mean of all events. Such increase in extreme events over the course of years means that natural variability is being dominated by global warming, and causing a continuously shifting climate pattern.

unnamed
The shift in the range of meteorological variables across the bell curve because of climate change. The curve represents the normal distribution of events with natural variability (climate teleconnections and seasonal). The small shift of the mean by climate change causes a significant increase in less common events at one tail as well as an increase in truly extreme events not previously observed in the reference climate regime. (Presentation slide by Erick Fernandes, 2015).
Extreme events include heat, flooding, rainfall rates, drought, and wildfires. All of these occurrences have been increasing the frequency and severity around the world because of climate change. In addition, there is evidence that because of the high rate of warming of the Arctic, the mid-latitude jet stream has become weaker with increased amplitude extremes, leading to short-term and longer-term patterns favorable for extreme conditions at the surface. For example, high amplitude ridges of high pressure which do not move much or reform constantly can lead to extended periods of drought and extreme heat (while other areas downstream may receive cooler temps but heavy rainfall and flooding. This is actually something that is observable on meteorological timescales. Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf discusses the increases in extreme events from climate change in a lecture HERE.


One thing I must emphasize with understanding the impacts of global climate change is that it is impacting the environments of our world now and continue to accelerate in the coming years and decades (assuming no major changes are done). Global warming…the primary force of climate change, caused by our immense release of greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels…is the dominate force behind the rate of change in climate behavior. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 5th assessment, the world should actually be experiencing anomalous COOLING right now, but instead we have warmed Earth above and beyond natural long term global temperature variability. So when people ask “Did global warming cause (insert extreme weather event)?”, it is the wrong question. Climate looks at a collection of events for a trend. What is clear is that global warming is NOW causing a statistically significant increase in extreme events and will continue to do so. There is no “new normal” but only a continuous “ramping up” of the Earth’s natural variability toward greater extremes relative to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with greater impacts as humanity leaves the stable global climate in existence since the beginning of civilization.

This may be something many do not appreciate, but it is factual. Human civilization has changed Earth’s climate system to the point that we as humans are turning up the “thermostat” and started a multi-centennial experiment in geoengineering. Heat, drought, flooding, rainfall rates, wildfire events, and jet stream amplitudes, as a result, have all increased significantly in just the past 30 yrs.

If the climate were a piece of music…think of Earth’s relatively short-term natural cycles as the melody and global warming as the dominating background harmony from which the melody plays over. If the harmony changes keys, the melody will respond and shift accordingly.

In Part 3, I’ll discuss the projected future impacts of climate change being actively researched (and some already happening) such as food security, human health and living space.