Earth Posts Second Warmest February and Winter on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with February 2017 marking not only the second warmest February on record but also closing out the planet’s second warmest meteorological winter.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for February – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.66°F, which is 1.76°F above the 20th-century average. Only February 2016 was warmer.

This February also marked the 386th 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.

The three-month period of December, January, and February – meteorological winter in the northern hemisphere – was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.60°F above the 20th century average of 53.8°F. That makes it the second warmest winter on record, trailing only the 2015-16 season.

While heat dominated most of the planet this winter, some places were particularly warm, including much of North America and Asia. Here in the contiguous US, it was our sixth warmest winter on record.

Coming on the heels of a five-month long La Niña event, which had a modest cooling effect, these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Winter 2016-17 was Earth’s 2nd warmest winter season on record. Credit: NOAA

February 2017: Second Warmest February on Record for US

February 2017 was the second-warmest February ever recorded in the continental US.

The average temperature of the lower 48 states, according to NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 41.2°F. That is a whopping 7.3°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.2°F shy of the record that was set in 1954.

From the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, thirty-nine states were warmer than normal and sixteen were record warm. Cooler conditions prevailed in the west, but no state in the region was record cold.

Across the country, a substantial number of local temperature records were challenged during the month. In all, 11,743 daily warm records were tied or broken compared to only 418 cold records. Experts say if the weather pattern was “normal”, records events would be unlikely. If it were volatile but balanced, a similar number of record highs and lows would be expected. However, February’s pattern was extremely lopsided.

On a day-to-day basis, these remarkable conditions were driven by a persistent ridge in the jet stream over the eastern US and a trough in the west. That said, the bigger picture of global warming cannot be discounted. According to World Weather Attribution, a partnership of international scientists, “the chances of seeing a February as warm as the one experienced across the Lower 48 has increased more than threefold because of human-caused climate change.”

February also closed out the country’s sixth warmest meteorological winter. Weather records for the contiguous United States date back to 1895.

February 2017 was the second warmest February on record for the US. Credit: NOAA

January 2017: Earth’s Third Warmest January on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2017 marking the third warmest January ever recorded on this planet. Only the Januarys of 2016 and 2007 were warmer.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.18°F. That is 1.58°F above the 20th-century average.

January was also the 385th 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 January, some places were particularly warm, including the eastern half of the United States and most of Canada. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was our 18th warmest January on NOAA’s books.

Coming on the heels of 2016 – Earth’s third consecutive warmest year on record – these soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave global temperatures a boost in the early part of last year, it dissipated in the spring. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in January.

Global temperature records date back to 1880.

January 2017 was Earth’s 3rd warmest January on record. Credit: NOAA

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

Art and science are two different disciplines, but it is exciting when they work together. This week, I will be presenting a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change” at the 105th Annual Conference of the College Art Association in New York City. This is the same presentation that I made at the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society last month, where it received a positive response and sparked a number of interesting conversations.

Building on the qualitative aspect of my talk, “The Art and Science of Climate Change”, this poster project quantified the influence climate-art has on people’s opinions. As Lord Kelvin said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it…”

Using Survey Monkey, I conducted a national poll where participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

The survey shows art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Climate Science is Not New

As someone who both writes and gives talks on climate change, I often meet people with doubts about the subject who ask: “Climate science is so new, how can we trust it?” The answer is simple. It is not new. In fact, the fundamentals of climate science have been understood for close to 200 years.

One of the first scientists to look into the planet’s energy balance was Joseph Fourier, a French physicist, in the 1820s. Given the Earth’s distance from the Sun, he was curious to know why its temperature was not cooler. Fourier felt that something other than incoming solar radiation was keeping the planet warm and hypothesized that the atmosphere was somehow acting like an insulating blanket. Working with the limited technology of the day, however, he was unable to make the detailed measurements needed to carry his idea further.

Decades later, in the 1860s, an Irish scientist named John Tyndall picked up Fourier’s theory. An alpine adventurer, he was interested in glaciers and the then controversial idea of ice ages. Wanting to know more about how they formed, he devised an experiment to see if the Earth’s atmosphere was acting like a thermostat. For this, he built a spectrophotometer – an instrument that measures the amount of heat that gases can absorb. His experiments showed that water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane were all very efficient at trapping heat. This essentially proved Fourier’s idea of a greenhouse effect.

In the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist, followed up on Tyndall’s idea of an atmospheric thermostat and ran with it. Ruling out water vapor as too transitory, he focused on carbon dioxide, which tends to linger in the atmosphere for a long time. His calculations showed that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would raise the average global temperature by 5°C (9°F).

To understand if such a large-scale change in atmospheric CO2 was possible, he turned to Arvid Hogbom, a colleague studying the global carbon cycle. This is the natural geochemical process where volcanic eruptions and the chemical weathering of rocks release CO2, while plants and oceans absorb it. Hogbom confirmed that CO2 levels could change dramatically over long periods of time. However, he also noted that industrial processes were releasing a significant amount of CO2 relatively quickly. Using this information, Arrhenius calculated that human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, could alter the composition of the atmosphere and increase global temperatures. In the 1890’s, however, fossil fuel use was only a fraction of what it is today and he believed it would take more than 1,000 years for the level of atmospheric CO2 to double.

Jumping ahead to the 1950s, Charles David Keeling, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, found a way to directly monitor levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. He created an instrument called a gas chromatograph and installed it on top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. At an elevation of more than 11,000 feet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is removed from both direct CO2 sources like factories and sinks such as forests that could skew the data. Still in operation today, the information recorded at this station is known as the Keeling Curve. It shows the steady increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere from 1958 to present.

Keeling’s measurements provided solid evidence that CO2 levels were rising and validated the theories of Tyndall and Arrhenius. More recently, scientists were able to extend his curve back in time by analyzing ancient air bubbles trapped in ice-cores from Greenland and Antarctica. This lengthy record shows that pre-industrial CO2 levels in the atmosphere were about 280 ppm. Today, they are over 400ppm – the highest they have been in more than 800,000 years.

Seeing this dramatic rise in CO2 and realizing the impact that a warming climate could have on society, the UN formed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. They assess the peer-reviewed research of thousands of scientists from around the world and publish a synthesized view of the current science. The latest IPCC report (AR5 published in sections in 2013/2014) unconditionally states that human activities are the main drivers of modern climate change.

Therefore, while it is the nature of all science to evolve with time and research, it is safe to say that climate science is not a new subject. It is only relatively new to those in the political sphere.

Giants in the history of climate science.

Survey Says… Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change

The 97th Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society is taking place this week in Seattle and I will be presenting a poster titled “Art Can Help Broaden the Public Conversation on Climate Change.”

Building on my talk, The Art and Science of Climate Change, I was curious to know if climate-art was influencing people’s opinions. Therefore, moving from the qualitative to the quantitative, I conducted a national poll using Survey Monkey. Participants were asked comparison questions about the influence of traditional graphs vs. artistic interpretations of climate change. The graphs were sourced from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report and the artwork came from both photojournalists and conceptual artists.

When compared to a graph, the different styles of art received different reactions. On average, however, a significant number of the participants (34%) related more to the issues of climate change via art than through traditional charts and graphs. Overall, 64% of participants said art had changed the way they thought about a subject in the past.

These results show art to be a powerful tool of communication that helps to broaden the public conversation on climate change. They also highlight the fact that a variety of visual outreach methods are needed to reach the entire population on this critical issue that affects us all in one way or another.

Climate-Art Survey shows that art can help broaden the public conversation on climate change. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Sea Level Rise Projections Revised Upward

Citing rapid melting at the poles, NOAA says global sea levels will rise faster than previously projected. This increases the flood risk for many coastal communities in the United States.

The agency’s new report, “Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the US”, updates a 2012 study and outlines a range of possible situations. Through 2100, it projects a global sea level rise of at least 1 foot on the low end to as high as 8 feet under a worst case scenario. The previous projections were estimated to be 4 inches and 6.6 feet, respectively.

On a regional level, from Virginia to Maine, sea-level rise is expected to be 1 to 1.6 feet greater than the global average. This is because the land is slowly sinking at the same time the water is rising. This precarious combination will intensify both high tide flooding and any storm surge events in the region.

The two main drivers of sea level rise are thermal expansion – a process in which water expands as it warms – and the melting of land-based ice. Both are the result of rising global temperatures.

The exact amount of sea level rise will depend on how much greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere in the near future and the rate at which the massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt.

Relative sea level trends based upon full record (>30-year period of record in all cases) measured and published for NOAA tide gauges through 2015. Credit: NOAA

2016: Earth’s Third Consecutive Warmest Year on Record

It’s official, 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded on this planet.

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 58.69°F. That is a staggering 1.69°F above the 20th-century average and surpasses the previous annual record that was set just last year. That makes 2016 the third year in a row to break a global temperature record.

As remarkable as this feat is, it does not come as much of a surprise. During the year, eight new global monthly temperature records were set.

A strong El Niño event influenced this record warmth, but it does not tell the whole story as it dissipated in June and was replaced by its cooler counterpart, La Niña, in the autumn. Therefore, the long-term trend of human-caused climate change was also a key factor. NOAA reports that 2016 marked the 40th consecutive year that our annual global temperature was above its long-term norm.

While heat dominated the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Here in the contiguous US, it was our second warmest year on record.

Looking at the bigger picture, all sixteen years of this century rank among the seventeen warmest ever recorded and five were record breakers (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016). As greenhouse gases – the main drivers 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.

2016 was Earth’s third consecutive warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA

2016 was Second Warmest Year on Record for US

2016 was the second-warmest year ever recorded in the continental US.

The average annual temperature of the lower 48 states, according to NOAA’s National Centers of Environmental Information, was 54.9°F. That is a whopping 2.9°F above the 20th century average and only 0.4°F shy of the record that was set in 2012. This also marks the 20th consecutive year that the annual average temperature for the contiguous US was above its long-term norm.

From coast to coast, every state posted one of their top-seven warmest years. Georgia was record warm and Alaska, the nation’s northern most state, had its third consecutive warmest year on record. “The breadth of the 2016 warmth is unparalleled in the nation’s climate history,” NOAA said. “No other year had as many states breaking or close to breaking their warmest annual average temperature.”

Credit: NOAA

2016 was also notable for its unusual number of weather and climate disasters that each totaled more than $1 billion in damages. In all, fifteen such events collectively caused $46 billion in direct costs and claimed the live of 138 people across the US. These incidents included drought, wildfire, four inland floods, eight severe storms, and a tropical cyclone. Only 2011, with sixteen events, produced more billion-dollar disasters.

Credit: NOAA

The exceptional warmth of 2016 was driven by a combination of strong El Niño conditions at the beginning of the year and the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. These soaring temperatures, however, were not limited to US borders. Later this month, NOAA is expected to announce that 2016 was the planet’s warmest year on record for the third year in a row.

Weather records for the contiguous United States date back to 1895.

November 2016: Fifth Warmest November on Record for Planet Earth and Second Warmest Autumn

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with November 2016 marking not only the fifth warmest November on record but also closing out the second warmest meteorological autumn ever recorded for the entire planet.

According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for November – over both land and sea surfaces – was 56.51°F. That is 1.31°F above the 20th-century average and only 0.41°F shy of the record that was set last year.

The three-month period of September, October, and November – known as the meteorological autumn in the northern hemisphere – was also one for the record books. With the season posting an average temperature that was 1.39°F above the 20th century average, it was the Earth’s second warmest September to November period on record.

While heat dominated most of the planet these past three months, some places were particularly warm. Here in the contiguous US, the autumn of 2016 was our warmest on record. Nearly every state experienced above average temperatures and eight were record warm – Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Wisconsin.

These soaring temperatures are attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. Whereas El Niño gave global temperatures a boost earlier in the year, it dissipated in June. In fact, its cooler counterpart, La Niña, prevailed across the tropical Pacific Ocean this November.

Year to date, the first eleven months of 2016 were the warmest of any year on record. It is now almost certain that 2016 will surpass 2015 as the Earth’s warmest year ever recorded. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

Credit: NOAA