April 2017: Earth’s Second Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with April 2017 marking the second warmest April ever recorded on this planet. Only April 2016 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 58.32°F. That is a staggering 1.62°F above the 20th-century average. April was also the 388th 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 in April, some places were particularly warm, including Asia, Alaska, and the eastern United States. For the contiguous US as a whole, it was the 11th warmest April on NOAA’s books.

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

Year to date, the first four months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

April 2017 was Earth’s second warmest April on Record. Credit: NOAA

March 2017: Earth’s Second Warmest on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with March 2017 marking the second warmest March ever recorded on this planet. Only March 2016 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 56.79°F. That is a whopping 1.89°F above the 20th-century average. March was also the 387th 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 in March, some places were particularly warm, including the United States, Europe, and Russia. For the contiguous US, despite the cool conditions in the northeast, it was the 9th warmest March on NOAA’s books.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. In fact, March 2017 marked the first time a monthly temperature departure from average surpassed 1.8°F (1.0°C) in the absence of an El Niño event.

Year to date, the first quarter of 2017 was the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Credit: NOAA

April Marches

April is famous for its showers, but this year it will be known for marches. After the rise of “alternative facts” and the Trump Administration’s rollback of US climate change policies, many concerned citizens will be making their voices heard at rallies this month in support of science and climate action.

The March for Science will be held on Earth Day, April 22, and the Peoples Climate March will take place the following week on April 29. The main events for both will be in Washington, DC, but satellite marches will be held in many cities across the US and around the world.

For more information, look at the links below:

Credit: March for Science and Peoples Climate Movement

Twelve New Cloud Types Added to International Cloud Atlas

Look up! There are some “new” clouds in the sky. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) – the UN’s weather agency – announced twelve new additions to its prestigious International Cloud Atlas on Thursday.

First published in 1896, the atlas is considered the most authoritative and comprehensive reference volume for identifying clouds. This is the first time it has been updated in thirty years.

Clouds, like flora and fauna, have an official classification system. There are ten different genera, which are defined by altitude and appearance. These are then subdivided into species based on a cloud’s shape and structure. Within these, there are varieties that describe the arrangement and transparency of different clouds. Whittling things down even further, there are also supplementary features/accessory clouds that merge with or attach to the main cloud body. In total, there are about one hundred combinations.

This new version of the Cloud Atlas recognizes one new species called volutus, but it is more commonly known as a roll cloud. This tube-shaped cloud appears to roll around a horizontal axis and is typically associated with the leading edge of a thunderstorm. But, on occasion, advancing cold fronts can also trigger their formation.

Six new supplementary/accessory features were also added. For avid sky-watchers, however, they are already widely known by their common names. These include:

Furthermore, five new “special clouds” were also part of the update. These form because of unique localized factors, including human activity such as exhaust from jet engines.

Of all these new additions, the asperitas (formerly known as undulatus asperatus) has garnered the most attention. These low-level clouds are caused by weather fronts that create rolling waves in the atmosphere and resemble the underside of a turbulent sea. It was first photographed in 2006 by a cloud-watcher in Iowa. Then in 2008, after several other sightings around the world, the Cloud Appreciation Society, an international group of cloud enthusiasts, began to lobby the WMO to acknowledge it as a new cloud type.

Available in digitized form for the first time, the WMO hopes this new edition of the International Cloud Atlas will help to increase public understanding of the critical role clouds play in the atmosphere. “If we want to forecast weather we have to understand clouds. If we want to model the climate system, we have to understand clouds. And if we want to predict the availability of water resources, we have to understand clouds”, says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The WMO cloud classification system can be traced back to Luke Howard, the so-called father of meteorology. In 1803, he published “The Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” which organized its then nebulous subject using a Latin nomenclature.

Asperitas Cloud. Credit: WMO

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

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

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

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

Climate Change Indicator: The Keeling Curve

Increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the main causes of global warming. The steady rise of this potent greenhouse gas is clearly visible on the Keeling Curve, a leading indicator of human-caused climate change.

Charles David Keeling, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, set up a CO2 monitoring site high atop Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1958. This remote spot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is well removed from the localized influences of both carbon sources (factories) and sinks (forests) that could skew the data. According to NOAA, it is the world’s oldest continuous carbon dioxide monitoring station.

When the data recorded at the site is shown graphically, it resembles a “saw-toothed” curve. This is because CO2 levels go up and down throughout the year with the life cycles of plants. Since most of the world’s landmass and vegetation are in the northern hemisphere, CO2 levels start to go down in spring when plants draw in the gas during the process of photosynthesis. Then, after reaching a minimum in the autumn, CO2 levels begin to go back up as plants die off and decay.

The curve’s long-term trend, however, has been definitively upward. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, have been releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere than natural carbon sinks (plants and oceans) can take out.

When first established in 1958, the CO2 level at Mauna Loa was 315ppm (parts per million). This autumn, it was more than 400ppm. To put this rapidly increasing number into perspective, consider that ice-core research shows that pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide held steady around 280ppm from about 1000-1750 AD.

The Keeling Curve. Credit: Scripps and NOAA

The Keeling Curve. Credit: Scripps and NOAA

Outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh

The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, known as COP 22, concluded on Saturday. Building on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Agreement, it began the process of putting the details of that historic accord into action.

Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to reassess their plans every five years.

One of the main goals of the Marrakesh meeting was to create a standardized rulebook to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. But after two weeks of negotiations and to the dismay of those hoping for quicker action, the diplomats agreed on 2018 as the deadline for setting up this vital framework. The finance of climate adaptation – the touchy subject of who will pay for what in terms of helping poor nations adapt to climate change – was also punted two years down the road. However, they did issue the Marrakech Action Proclamation re-affirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their promises to combat climate change.

Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement 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. This is why the election of Mr. Trump as the next US President sent shockwaves through the meeting in Morocco.

The President-elect has famously called climate change a “hoax” and said he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. While only time will tell if Mr. Trump will follow through on his rhetoric of climate change denial, the rest of the world seems willing to move forward with plans to tackle this critical issue.

Outside of the formal COP meetings, the positive spirit of the Paris Agreement pushed forward. Four countries – Canada, Germany, Mexico and the US – announced their climate action plans through 2050. With one of the more aggressive proposals, Germany aims to essentially stop using fossil fuels and reduce its emissions between 80% and 95% by mid-century. Furthermore, a group of forty-eight developing nations, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, declared their intention to switch to 100% renewable energy between 2030 and 2050.

The Marrakech meeting was the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 23) will take place in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

Credit: UN

Credit: UN