2018: Fourth Warmest Year on Record for Planet

Its official, 2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2015, 2016, and 2017 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.42°F. That is 1.42°F above the 20th-century average.

2018 also marked the 42nd consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means every year since 1976 has posted a warmer than average annual temperature.

While heat dominated most of the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Record heat was measured across much of Europe and the Middle East. Here in the contiguous US, it was the fourteenth warmest year on NOAA’s books. Alaska, however, was even warmer with its second warmest year ever recorded.

The exceptional warmth of 2018 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While El Niño conditions helped influence record heat in the past, 2018 saw the cooling effects of La Niña in the beginning of the year with ENSO neutral conditions prevailing after April.

Looking at the bigger picture, nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with the last five years ranking as the five warmest on record.  The only year from the 20th century included on the top ten list is 1998, which is tied with 2009 as the planet’s ninth warmest year on record.

As greenhouse gases – the main driver of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

2018 was Earth’s  4th warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

Speaking About Art, Climate, and Environmental Policy at AMS

The 99th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society is taking place this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Its theme is “Understanding and Building Resilience to Extreme Events by Being Interdisciplinary, International, and Inclusive.”

Thrilled to be a part of it, I will be giving a presentation titled “The Power of Perception: Art, Climate, and the History of US Environmental Policy”. The talk looks at the role art has played in helping to build the political will behind several landmark environmental policies over the years and how it can help with climate change communication today.

From the Yosemite Land Grant of 1864 to the present, images have helped give the public, and the policy makers they elected, a new way to relate to and understand the issues of their time. In many cases, images mobilized public concern that helped drive legislation. The publication of photos of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 in Time Magazine, for example, helped spur the passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the EPA in the 1970s.

The talk also highlights the way technology has changed the way we relate to images and the role movies – the art of moving images – can play in reaching a wide and diverse audience.

Credit: AMS

November 2018: Earth’s Fifth Warmest November on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month. November 2018 not only tied 2004 and 2016 as the fifth warmest November on record, but it also closed out the planet’s second warmest September to November season – a period known as meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.55°F, which is 1.35°F above the 20th-century average. This November also marked the 407th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

Globally, the collective period of September, October, and November was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.44°F above the 20th century average of 57.1°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record. Only 2015 was warmer.

While heat dominated most of the planet during this three-month stretch, some places were particularly warm, including parts of Europe, Scandinavia, Alaska, and eastern Russia. For the contiguous US as a whole, the season was only slightly above average. To put this disparity into context, consider that the mainland United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather that is happening in our own backyards.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in November, which means there was neither a warm El Niño nor a cool La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

The UN Climate Change Conference in Poland Keeps the Paris Agreement Moving Ahead

The UN Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, known as COP 24, concluded on Saturday. After two weeks of tough negotiations, delegates from nearly 200 countries drafted the rules and processes needed to translate the spirit of the historic Paris Agreement into action.

Years in the making, the 2015 Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels and urged countries to pursue an even tighter cap of 1.5°C (2.7°F) if possible. To achieve this goal, almost 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But when added up, the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, will miss the 2°C goal.  In fact, they would allow for a 3.2°C (5.76°F) rise in our global temperature. This is why the agreement requires countries to reassess their plans every five years once it goes into effect in 2020.

One of the main goals of COP 24 was to create a standardized rulebook for the monitoring and reporting of these independent undertakings.  China – the world’s largest carbon polluter – was pushing for different sets of rules for developed and developing countries. However, in the end, a universal and transparent methodology was agreed upon that subjects all countries to the same level of scrutiny. Every country, regardless of economic status, will have to report their emissions – and the progress made in reducing them – every two years starting in 2024. The deal also calls on countries to deepen their planned emission cuts ahead of 2020.

While the meeting did produce a deal to keep the Paris Agreement alive and moving forward, it was a bumpy road. In fact, the negotiations were almost completely derailed by a debate over climate science of all things.  Many of the delegates wanted to formally endorse the IPCC’s special report on the consequences of 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming – the more aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement – that came out in October. However, several major oil producing countries, including the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, balked at the idea and pushed to downplay the report’s significance. In the end, a compromise was reached. Instead of a full-fledged endorsement, the conference statement expressed “appreciation and gratitude” for the report’s timely completion.

The question now is, will individual countries make pledges to deepen their emissions cuts and take the necessary steps to make them a reality.

The Paris Agreement, although ratified in record time, is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises.

The Katowice meeting was the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 25) will take place in November 2019 in Chile.

Credit: UN

2018: Not Yet Over, But Already Among the Top Ten Wettest in NYC

The northeastern United States has been rather soggy this year. With more than two weeks still left in 2018, many locations have already posted their wettest years on record.

Here in New York City, we have received 59.68 inches of rain to date, which is 12.08 inches above average. That means 2018 now ranks among the top ten wettest years ever recorded in the Big Apple.

Much of this impressive, and still building, total came down during several heavy rain events over the course of the year. Each of these caused street and subway flooding around the five boroughs. For the northeast region as a whole, heavy precipitation events increased 55% between 1958 and 2016, according to the latest National Climate Assessment.

Scientists attribute the increase in both frequency and intensity of heavy rain events to climate change. As greenhouse gases warm the atmosphere, the air is able to “hold” more water vapor. More specifically, according to the Clausius–Clapeyron relation, for every increase of 1°F, the saturation level of the atmosphere increases by about 4%. That means there is more water vapor available in the air to condense and fall as precipitation.

Credit: Climate Matters

Fourth National Climate Assessment: A Dire Forecast for US if Action is Not Taken

The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) report was released rather inauspiciously last week on the day after Thanksgiving – a traditionally slow news day. Nevertheless, the report is out and it clearly states, “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen.”

The massive report, considered volume two of NCA4, builds on the Climate Science Special Report issued last year. It gives a detailed account of what the impacts will be across the country and how the worst effects could be avoided.

The U.S average temperature, according to the report, has increased by 1.8°F since 1901, and is projected to continue rising. Over the next few decades, temperatures are projected to rise another 2.5°F.  By the end of the century, our average temperature could soar by as much as 11.9°F if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase unchecked.

The report also looks at the long-term economic impacts for the country as the average temperature continues to climb. Costs from rising sea levels could reach as high as $118 billion and the projected total for damaged infrastructure is $32 billion. This is in addition to the reduced agricultural productivity expected from high heat and extended drought events. Overall, the report warns that if significant steps are not taken, climate change could slash the US economy’s GDP by 10% by the end of the century.

Not all doom and gloom, the report’s authors emphasize, “These impacts are projected to intensify—but how much they intensify will depend on actions taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the risks from climate change now and in the coming decades.”

While similar in theme to the IPCC report from the UN, this assessment focuses solely on the United States. Emphasizing the fact that rising temperatures will affect different parts of our vast country in different ways, the NCA breaks the nation down into specific regions. It details the current and future impacts of climate change in each one:

The report also includes a supplemental set of State Climate Summaries that give a clear idea of what to expect in each of the 50 states as well as the US territories.

Mandated by Congress under the Global Change Research Act, this exhaustive 1600 page peer-reviewed report was produced by 300 scientists from 13 different government agencies. Published every four years, it is considered this country’s most authoritative statement on climate change.

Annual average temperatures across the United States are projected to increase over this century, with greater changes at higher latitudes as compared to lower latitudes, and greater changes under a higher scenario (RCP8.5; right) than under a lower one (RCP4.5; left). This figure shows projected differences in annual average temperatures for mid-century (2036–2065; top) and end of century (2071–2100; bottom) relative to the near present (1986–2015). Image credit: Fourth NCA, Vol II, figure 2.4.

October 2018: Earth’s Second Warmest October on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with October 2018 marking the second warmest October ever recorded on this planet. Only October 2015 was warmer.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.65°F, which is 1.55°F above the 20th-century average. October also marked the 406th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet this October, some places were particularly warm. These included eastern Russia, northern Australia, Alaska, and most of the east coast of the United States. These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in October, which means there was neither a warm El Niño nor a cool La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

For many people in the central US, however, October was relatively cold. These chilly temperatures, driven by a deep dip in the jet stream, helped cool the national average to 0.3°F below normal for the month. To put this disparity into context, consider that the contiguous United States constitutes less than 2% of the total surface of the Earth. This detail highlights the fact that climate change is a complex global phenomenon that involves much more than the short-term weather that is happening in our own backyards.

Year to date, the first ten months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

October 2018 was the second warmest October ever recorded on this planet. Credit: NOAA

Film Looks at Climate Change as a National Security Issue

Today is Veterans Day, a day to honor the men and women who have served in the armed forces. As such, it seems an appropriate time to highlight “The Age of Consequences” – a film that looks at climate change through the lens of national security and global stability.

Directed by Jared Scott, the film features a number of interviews with members of the military. While quick to point out that climate change is not the sole cause of any particular conflict, they discuss how it acts as a “threat multiplier” or “accelerant of instability”.

More specifically, the film shows how water and food shortages, drought, extreme weather, and sea-level rise have stressed social tensions to the point of armed conflict and/or mass migration in some of the more volatile regions of the world. Released in 2016, the war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the European refugee crisis are prominently featured.

Watch the trailer here:

Fall Foliage and Climate Change

Autumn is a season well known for its colorful foliage. Driven by the combination of sunlight, temperature, and precipitation, local displays vary from year to year. However, as the climate changes, so too will this familiar natural phenomenon.

As daylight hours decrease in the fall, there is less sunlight available to power photosynthesis – the chemical process that provides nutrients to trees by converting carbon dioxide and water into glucose, which is consumed by the tree and oxygen, which is released. This, in combination with falling temperatures, tells a tree to start preparing for winter.

To do this, a tree turns off its food producers by slowly corking the connection between leaf-stems and its branches.  This blocks the movement of sugars from the leaves to the tree as well as the flow of water from the roots to the leaves.  As a result, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll, the agent of photosynthesis and the reason for the green color of summer foliage.  As the green fades, other chemicals that have been present in the leaves all along begin to show.  These include xanthophyll and carotene, which produce yellow and orange leaves, respectively. Red to purplish colors are the result of anthocyanin, a chemical produced as a result any remaining sugars trapped in a leaf.

The change of leaf color happens every year, but the timing and duration of the displays are largely dependent on temperature and rainfall. Dry, sunny days and cool nights are the ideal recipe for beautiful fall foliage. Warmer and wetter conditions, on the other hand tend to delay the color change. However, extreme conditions, such as high heat, frost, excessive rain, or drought, can be a source of stress for trees and cause the colors to change early and the leaves to fall off faster.

As our climate changes, so too will displays of fall foliage. With warmer and wetter conditions forecast for the northeast, autumn colors are expected to peak later and disappear sooner. While there will still be variability from year to year, the fall foliage season in general is expected to get shorter. Furthermore, with the increasing probability of extreme weather events, such as storms with heavy rain, leaves could be swept from trees, effectively ending the season in a single day.

These changes will have more than an aesthetic affect. They are sure to have an impact on the multi-billion-dollar a year leaf-peeping ecotourism industry in several states.

Credit: Climate Central

September 2018: Earth’s Fourth Warmest September on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with September 2018 tying 2017 as the fourth warmest September ever recorded on this planet.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.4°F, which is 1.40°F above the 20th-century average. September also marked the 405th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet this September, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and both the eastern and southwestern regions of the United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, September 2018 marked the fourth warmest September on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in September, which means there was neither a warm El Niño nor a cool La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first nine months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

September 2018 was the planet’s 4th warmest September on record. Credit: NOAA