Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Goddard Institute for Space Studies
News Article | January 18, 2017
2016 was the hottest year on record, setting a new high for the third year in a row, with scientists firmly putting the blame on human activities that drive climate change. The final data for 2016 was released on Wednesday by the three key agencies – the UK Met Office and Nasa and Noaa in the US – and showed 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century. Direct temperature measurements stretch back to 1880, but scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years. In 2016, global warming delivered scorching temperatures around the world. The resulting extreme weather means the impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected, according to scientists. The natural El Niño climate phenomenon, which helped ramp up temperatures to “shocking” levels in early 2016, has now waned, but carbon emissions were the major factor and will continue to drive rising heat. Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “El Niño was a factor this year, but both 2015 and 2016 would have been records even without it.” He said about 90% of the warming signal in 2016 was due to rising greenhouse gas emissions. He expects 2017 to be another extremely hot year. The new data shows the Earth has now risen about 1.1C above the levels seen before the industrial revolution, when large-scale fossil fuel burning began. This brings it perilously close to the 1.5C target included as an aim of the global climate agreement signed in Paris in December 2015. The declaration of 2016 as a year of record-breaking heat comes just ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president. Trump has called global warming a hoax and is filling his administration with climate change deniers and former ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson. Tillerson said recently that climate change does exist but that the ability to predict the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is “very limited”, a statement most climate scientists would reject. Trump’s team has said it will strip away funding for “politically correct environmental monitoring”. Presenting the 2016 temperature data, Derek Arndt, at Noaa, said only: “We present this assessment for the benefit of the American people.” The three temperature records are independent but reached very similar conclusions. “The datasets are all singing the same song, said Arndt. The data from Noaa showed a run of 16 successive months from May 2015 to August 2016 when the global average temperature broke or equalled previous records, while no land area experienced an annual average temperature in 2016 that was cooler than 20th-century average. Noaa also found Arctic sea ice fell to its lowest annual average extent on record and Antarctic sea ice to the second smallest extent on record. The warming in the Arctic in 2016 was “astounding”, Schmidt said. Prof Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, said: “The spate of record-warm years that we have seen in the 21st century can only be explained by human-caused climate change. The effect of human activity on our climate is no longer subtle. It’s plain as day, as are the impacts – in the form of record floods, droughts, superstorms and wildfires – that it is having on us and our planet.” “While there may be some cost in mitigating climate change, there are already major costs in damages,” said Prof Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, who estimates the costs as already tens of billions of dollars a year. “Yet if sensible approaches are implemented in the right way for [cutting emissions] and building resilience, the increases in energy efficiency can actually make it a net gain, not only for the planet for for everyone.” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “Any politician who denies this evidence from world-class climate scientists will be wilfully turning a blind eye to rising risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of their citizens. “I hope that president-elect Trump and his team in particular will acknowledge and act on this important scientific information.” The head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Petteri Taalas, said in November: “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue. Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.” A WMO report said human-induced global warming had contributed to at least half the extreme weather events studied in recent years, with the risk of extreme heat increasing by 10 times in some cases. The record-smashing temperatures in 2016 led to searing heatwaves across the year: a new high of 42.7C (108.9F) was recorded in Pretoria, South Africa in January; Mae Hong Son in Thailand saw 44.6C (112.3F) on 28 April; Phalodi in India reached 51.0C (123.8F) in May, and Mitribah in Kuwait recorded 54.0C (129.2F) in July. Warm oceans saw coral mortality of up to 50% in parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and bleaching of 75% of Japan’s biggest reef. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere also broke records in 2016, with May seeing the highest monthly value yet – 407.7 ppm – at Mauna Loa, in Hawaii, the site of the longest-running measurements dating back to 1958. Global carbon emissions have barely grown in the last three years, after decades of strong growth, according to an analysis published in November. The main reason is China burning less coal, but CO2 is still being emitted into the atmosphere at record levels. “CO2 will continue to rise and cause the planet to warm until emissions are cut down to near zero,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré at the University of East Anglia. Amid fears Donald Trump’s administration will shatter decades of hard-won progress on climate change, the Guardian, Univision and Tumblr are uniting to deliver 24 hours of live coverage from around the world on what is at stake. Hours from Trump taking power, we will be reporting from all seven continents, in English and Spanish, hearing from those most affected, and finding out how we can all help protect the planet.
News Article | May 17, 2017
April 2017 had the second-highest global surface temperatures in modern record-keeping next to April 2016, according to monthly analyses released this week. Last April emerged as the second warmest April in 137 years, with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) calculating that Earth’s mean temperature over land and water was 0.88 degrees Celsius above average, or from 1951 to 1980. It trailed April 2016’s 1.06 degrees Celsius. “The two top April temperature anomalies have occurred during the past two years,” noted a NASA statement. April 2016 was the warmest on record at 1.06 degrees Celsius hotter than April mean temperature, while April 2017’s was 0.18 degrees Celsius cooler than it. The third warmest April, on the other hand, happened in 2010 and was 0.87 degrees Celsius hotter than the mean. The GISS team’s monthly analysis was gathered from publicly accessible data obtained by around 6,300 meteorological outposts worldwide, as well as Antarctic research stations and instruments that measure sea surface temperature. Modern record-keeping of global temperatures started around 1880, as previous observations did not comprise enough of the planet. A separate independent analysis from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) also deemed April this year the second-warmest April in its records since 1891. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on the other hand, is scheduled to release its global report Thursday, May 18. Both the NASA and JMA data showed that 2017’s first four months were Earth’s second-warmest January-April period. The highest April warm temperature anomalies were concentrated in eastern Asia, namely Mongolia and central and eastern Russia, and sections of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean. While it didn’t get a temperature boost from the El Niño that affected the same period in the previous year, January 2017 still surfaced as the third warmest January in 137 years. 2016, on the other hand, is the warmest year on Earth since record-keeping started in 1880, and it is the third year in a row to set a new record for average global temperatures. According to NASA, Earth’s global temperature has increased 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Arctic ice minimum has dropped by 13.3 percent each decade, while average sea level worldwide has risen almost 7 inches in the last century. The answer to the seemingly simple question of what causes extreme temperatures and weather conditions is often a complex one. Scientists, in the past, usually avoid linking specific climate events to global warming, as there are different factors at play. But that was before. In a recent study, a team from Stanford University found that global warming from man-made emissions of greenhouse gases upped the likelihood and intensified the severity of some of the hottest events for over 80 percent of the world’s surface area. Apart from human influence, the enhanced volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released from fossil fuel burning, deforestation, and natural occurrences are thought to result in global warming occurring in the past five decades. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | May 24, 2017
In a sign of growing tensions between scientists and the Trump administration, researchers published a scientific paper Wednesday that was conceived and written as an explicit refutation to an assertion by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt about climate change. The study, in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, sets up a direct test of a claim by Pruitt, made in written Senate comments following his confirmation hearing, that “over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming.” After reviewing temperature trends contained in three satellite data sets going back to 1979, the paper concludes that the data sets show a global warming trend — and that Pruitt was incorrect. [So much water pulsed through a melting Greenland glacier that it warped the Earth’s crust] “Satellite temperature measurements do not support the claim of a ‘leveling off of warming’ over the past two decades,” write the authors, led by Benjamin Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Santer co-authored the study with three Livermore colleagues and scientists from MIT, the University of Washington in Seattle and Remote Sensing Systems, which keeps one of the three satellite temperature data sets. “In my opinion, when incorrect science is elevated to the level of formal congressional testimony and makes its way into the official congressional record, climate scientists have some responsibility to test specific claims that were made, determine whether those claims are correct or not, and publish their results,” said Santer in an interview, when asked about the framing of the research. The study wades into an ongoing and highly fraught debate over how to interpret the temperature records of the planet’s lower atmosphere, or troposphere, provided by polar orbiting satellites. Such data have often been cited by climate change doubters so as to suggest that there is no global warming trend, or that global warming has recently slowed down, and therefore to contradict thermometer-based measurements taken at the planet’s surface (which show a clear warming trend). But the new study finds that all of the three satellite data sets — kept by Remote Sensing Systems, the Center for Satellite Applications and Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Alabama at Huntsville — show a long-term warming trend in the middle to upper part of the troposphere. After correcting for a cooling-down of the stratosphere (the layer above the troposphere), the paper finds that the trend is roughly 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the first two data sets, and 0.26 degrees Fahrenheit per decade for the third. The study further examined whether any shorter temperature trend in these data sets could be described as a “leveling off,” as Pruitt had put it. It did so by examining 20-year periods in the data sets and comparing those with the predictions of climate simulations that reflected the natural variations of the climate but excluded human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. These models were thus meant to represent what the climate would do on its own if humans were not altering it. The study finds warming trends for all the 20-year periods, including the “last two decades” referred to by Pruitt, although it acknowledges that the trend is somewhat lower over these later periods. But it attributes this to natural climate variations, including a very strong El Nino event in 1997 and 1998 that caused dramatic warmth around the beginning of the 20-year window that ends in the present. Even in these periods that saw somewhat less warming, the study finds that it was still far more warming than would be without human perturbations of the climate. “The probability that internal variability could produce warming exceeding that observed over the last 20 years is only 1.6 %, 3.1 %, and 6.3% (respectively)” in the three data sets, the authors find. “Pruitt is not correct in saying that warming has leveled off,” Santer said. “It hasn’t in any of the satellite data sets, and indeed, in older and newer versions of the three satellite data sets, we judge the most recent warming to be statistically significant — to be larger than the warming that our current model-based estimates tells us that we should see due to internal variability alone.” The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. “Another solid piece of work by Santer et al. that demonstrate multi-decadal satellite-derived global tropospheric temperatures are increasing far more than we would expect from natural causes,” said Thomas Karl, a longtime climate researcher who formerly headed NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “Other satellite instruments, which measure temperatures closer to where we live, work and grow our food show at least as much, or more warming, in recent decades.” Gavin Schmidt, who heads the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, said by email that when it comes to measurements of the Earth’s troposphere by satellite, “the trends over the whole period are clear.” “This doesn’t however imply that a) there aren’t still issues with the satellite retrievals (there may well be), and b) that models did a perfect job over this time period,” Schmidt cautioned. John Christy, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Huntsville who keeps that data set and whose work has been often cited by climate change “skeptics,” agreed there is a warming trend in the satellite data overall but said that climate models predict that it should be larger. “The datasets are still significantly cooler than the model average,” he said by email. Christy also argued that the other two data sets, which are warmer than his, are “outliers regarding the magnitude.” “I wouldn’t get too excited about this study,” Christy said. But it is not as though a scientific study refuting one of his statements to the Senate holds much risk for Pruitt, said Sarah Binder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a political scientist at George Washington University. “It’s significant in the sense that it shows the limits of the confirmation process, especially when the president’s party controls the Senate and senators can no longer filibuster nominees. In other words, it’s possible to float factually inaccurate statements and yet not ding your chances of confirmation,” Binder said. “Of course, the climate change issue is highly partisan: Republicans tend to disagree with a general scientific consensus that the earth is warming. So the idea that a Republican EPA nominee might give [a] factually contested statement on climate change and not pay a price is not terribly surprising.” In the end, Santer argued, scientists should fact-check politicians even if they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to how long it takes to do so. “These claims were made in the U.S. Senate, in a confirmation,” said Santer. “It takes time however to set the record straight, to do due diligence, to do the research necessary to address the claims. And one would hope that the scientific response receives at least some token amount of attention, and that the original incorrect claim does not dominate the public discourse on these critically important issues.”
News Article | May 8, 2017
Eons ago Earth experienced a wild transformation: it turned into a giant snowball. These massive glaciation events, where ice encased the planet from pole-to-pole, are fittingly named “snowball Earth.” There were at least two occurrences: one around 717 million and another some 645 million years ago. Although geologists have good evidence Earth experienced these snowball events, they still cannot figure out howthey happened. Scientists have debated for decades over what set off the most profound climatic changes in the planet’s geologic record. Now researchers at Harvard University have a new idea that may finally provide an answer: They say volcanic regions, located in the right place at the right time, may have triggered at least the one of these giant glaciation events. If you traveled back in time to Earth about 700 million years ago, you would have found ice hundreds of meters thick covering the oceans and continents, although the land masses may have also had some bare, dry areas dotted with ice-covered hypersaline lakes. The average global temperature fell around negative 37 degrees Fahrenheit. The snowball-like Earth was largely uninhabitable. Thankfully, these apocalyptic glacial periods happen rarely—but that fact also makes it hard for scientists to determine how such an extreme climate formed. “The further we go back in time, the more Earth resembles a world very different from the one we live on today,” explains Linda Sohl, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University's Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies “So we can’t readily interpret the past based on our knowledge of the present.” Researchers have proposed a host of ideas about what sparked snowball Earths. The cause—whatever it was—had to cool the planet so that enough ice formed to reflect much of the sun’s incoming energy, creating a runaway cooling effect. One hypothesis suggests a large meteorite hit the planet and threw up so much dust and ash into the air it reduced the incoming solar radiation for a couple years and chilled the planet. Other ideas involve similar types of brief but catastrophic events, such as a gigantic volcanic eruption. Yet another hypothesis proposes some kind of organism evolved that could remove a large amount of carbon from the surface of the ocean and bury it in deep sediments after they died and settled on the ocean floor; that mechanism would theoretically have kept enough carbon out of the atmosphere to cause runaway cooling. None of these ideas have much—if any—physical evidence to back them up, however. One of the most popular ideas focuses on weathering, a natural process that captures and stores carbon via the chemical breakdown of rocks. When the supercontinent Rodinia broke up around 750 million years ago, the new, smaller continents scattered to locations around the equator where it was warm and wet—prime conditions for weathering. In addition, large volcanic regions would have emerged as the giant land mass fragmented, which would have been extremely vulnerable to weathering. The problem: weathering works incredibly slowly—the process is constantly happening but it affects the global climate on a million-year time scale. Earth’s climate system usually self-corrects in that amount of time. Plus, the greater volcanic activity would have released carbon dioxide, making it even harder to push Earth into a snowball state. This supercontinent breakup scenario could have caused a runaway cooling effect only if weathering outpaced other feedbacks in the climate system, explains Francis Macdonald, an associate professor of geology at Harvard. Because none of the ideas is completely satisfactory, Macdonald and colleague Robin Wordsworth, an assistant professor of environmental science and engineering, set out to find another explanation. In 2010 Macdonald published a paper that, for the first time, pinned down the precise date when the Sturtian glaciation—the first of the two snowball Earths—began. “We could suddenly say within a few hundred thousand years when this event actually occurred,” Macdonald explains. “Before, it had only been known within tens of millions of years.” He discovered Sturtian glaciation started around 717 million years ago. Around the same time, Macdonald dated a volcanic region, called the Franklin Large Igneous Province (LIP). He discovered the Franklin LIP became active close to when the first snowball Earth event began. “I started thinking: How could these be so coincident? How might they be related?” he says. Armed with this new information, Macdonald and Wordsworth used a combination of geologic evidence and modeling to test whether the Franklin LIP could be the culprit. In a new study, published in February in Geophysical Research Letters, they show the Franklin LIP’s volcanic activity could have caused extreme climate cooling. That is because of a unique combination of factors: First, the Franklin LIP formed in an area rich in sulfur; as it erupted, large plumes of hot gas and dust would have lofted sulfur particles kilometers into the air. Sulfur particles block the incoming sun and also keep heat from escaping Earth, which can create either a warming or cooling effect, depending on the location. That’s why the next piece of physical evidence is key—geologic records show the Franklin LIP sat at the equator where Earth receives more solar energy than the amount of heat it radiates back out to space. According to the researchers’ model, if enough sulfur particles reached high enough into the atmosphere at this equatorial location, it would block enough of the sun’s incoming energy to trigger runaway cooling. The sulfur aerosols would have spread over the planet as well via mixing that occurs in the stratosphere, but the equatorial region would have the greatest density of sulfur particles, severely blocking the sun. The eruptions would have needed to blast sulfur into the atmosphere for about five years to push Earth into a snowball state. Such a scenario would also require a relatively cool Earth ahead of time. Macdonald says that is because sulfur particles need to reach the altitude of the stratosphere to have maximum cooling effect. In a colder climate the stratosphere settles a little closer to Earth’s surface, making it possible for the sulfur-rich hot air plumes to reach. Although scientists have not determined exactly what the climate was like prior to snowball Earth, this new hypothesis is appealing, Macdonald says. “It provides a positive feedback mechanism. As you start cooling, then it gets easier and easier to put more sulfur aerosols up there, then Earth cools more, and so on,” he explains. This process would happen potentially so fast that it would overwhelm other climate feedbacks that might make the planet warmer.” Other experts find Macdonald’s and Wordsworth idea compelling. “I would say it’s probably the best idea we have, because it’s actually based on observations,” says Joseph Kirschvink, a geobiologist at California Institute of Technology, who coined the term “snowball Earth.” Paul Hoffman, an emeritus professor of geology at Harvard, says the timing between the sulfur-rich Franklin volcanism and snowball Earth makes it an attractive explanation. But “it could just be a coincidence with no relation,” he explains. Linda Sohl says the pair have come up with an intriguing hypothesis, although she also says, “Does it explain all snowball events in Earth’s history? Almost certainly not.” Hoffman also points out the researcher’s idea does not explain the second snowball event that came soon after the first, called the Marinoan glaciation. “I think that’s the weakest point in the idea,” he says. “So far as we know, there’s no large [volcanic regions] associated with the onset of the second.” Macdonald says there could have been one but that geologic evidence becomes patchy that far back in time. Macdonald himself is not convinced his and Wordsworth’s version of events is what actually occurred 717 million years ago. “We’re not saying this had to happen, just that it’s feasible and it’s a pretty impressive coincidence,” he explains. Along with this new idea, Macdonald expresses a note of caution to people who have proposed geoengineering projects using sulfur aerosols to combat global warming. “It’s a little frightening if we want to play with these particles, to know they may have caused major climate change in the past,” he says. “On the other hand, we’re already geoengineering with carbon dioxide. The cat’s already out of the bag.”
News Article | April 17, 2017
Pres. Donald Trump issued a major executive order last week that, if successful, could undercut the nation’s fight against global warming. In particular, the order kicks off an attempt to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from the power sector. While Trump’s move represents a big blow to U.S. climate efforts, the renowned scientist James Hansen sees a different—and, he argues, better—way forward on global warming. “The problem is the Clean Power Plan is really not that effective,” says Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, who brought climate change to the U.S. public’s attention in his famed 1988 congressional testimony. “It’s a tragedy that [the Obama administration] continued to pursue a regulatory approach.” The solution Hansen believes will work best is one recently advocated by a group of Republican statesmen: a “carbon fee and dividend.” Although it is not a tax, the approach would put a price on carbon—a step Hansen thinks is absolutely essential for cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, who has been called the father of climate change awareness, recently spoke about the issue along with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, a leading expert on economic development, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Scientific American followed up with Hansen, also director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia, to discuss this strategy and how he thinks it will help the U.S. turn the tide on global warming. [An edited transcript of the interview follows.] What’s the United States’ best hope for solving climate change at this point? The only effective way of addressing climate change is to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society. That could be done in a simple way by collecting a fee from the fossil fuel companies that would gradually rise over time—a carbon fee and dividend. Studies show this would benefit the economy and this is a conservative approach, where you let the market move you toward a better situation. I call it a carbon fee because you would give all of the money to the public, a dividend to each legal resident. [A group of Republicans] have adopted [this approach] almost precisely as I proposed it in 2008. The starting level of the fee varies from one proposition to another—I believe that they start at $40 per ton of carbon. [I] suggest $55 per ton—[that price] yields a dividend of $1,000 per legal resident and $3,000 for a family with two or more children, with one half-share for each child [and] a maximum of two half-shares per family. This way it actually stimulates the economy. If it’s a tax taken by the government, it makes the government bigger and it depresses the economy. That’s why I object to the Democrats as much as to the Republicans. The only way the public will allow a carbon fee is if you give the money to them—people don’t want to see the price of gasoline at the pump going up. That’s what’s frustrating about this problem—the fact that there’s a solution, which is not difficult and not economically harmful. It would be remarkable if the Trump administration would actually understand this and realize that it would be popular. It would work, unlike some of the things that Trump is advocating. What is the number-one action the U.S. could take to reduce its emissions, without the federal government? Unless you get a fee on carbon, you cannot solve the problem. As long as fossil fuels appear to be cheap energy, they’re going to keep being burned by somebody. So ultimately the solution has got to involve the government. You view nuclear energy as an integral part of addressing climate change—why? Nuclear energy—even in its current sad state—is doing a lot to reduce carbon emissions and deaths and illnesses from pollution. There’s no way countries like China and India are going to phase out their coal use without the help of advanced nuclear power. The safety record of nuclear power is actually very impressive. We should have developed the technology of advanced nuclear power but the bias against nuclear has been so strong that the industry has not developed. It’s still not too late because there are a lot of innovative start-up companies out there—but these need to be encouraged. You’ve been focusing your energy on helping people understand the urgency of global warming. Are you hopeful that the public will demand major action from the government soon? Climate change is not going to register on the public’s list of priorities, so we need the help of an intelligent government system. Even though the fossil fuel industry money has been able to distort the climate science in Congress, the judicial branch can come into play. That’s why I’m a plaintiff along with 21 young people in a lawsuit against the federal government [suing it for having taken—and continuing to take—actions that support fossil fuel production and create greenhouse gas emissions].* We now have a really bulletproof case, which I think will win even with a conservative Supreme Court. It’s going to be a combination of using the judiciary branch of the government and then using the democratic process to shape the policy that’s accepted. Between those two, I’m optimistic we could get on a path that would then influence the world. So then is communicating with the public even useful? This is somewhat analogous to civil rights—the courts did not force the government to carry out policies to end segregation until the public began to make an issue of it. Courts don’t often move in front of public opinion, so it is important to try to get public pressure. How should climate scientists—both federal government researchers and outside scientists—react to the Trump presidency? We have to use the scientific method and facts to make it clear that we’re being objective, and that there’s nothing political about the science. Scientists should stick to trying to explain the science as clearly as possible. Given the president's stance on global warming, are you concerned about climate scientists’ ability to communicate with the public? I’m very concerned about their inability to communicate with the public, but that’s nothing new with Trump. That problem has come about over the last decade or two, because of the political preference of those politicians who support the fossil fuel industry—they’ve found that an extremely effective technique is simply to deny the science or politicize it, or make it appear that scientists have an agenda. It’s made it difficult for science to provide effective advice to the government. Why is it important that climate scientists be able to openly communicate with the public about climate change? We have to make this situation clear to the public. The public still does not treat this as a high-priority issue, while in fact it should be near the top of the list. It’s a difficult story to communicate to the public because you just don’t see that much happening—the fact that the climate system has a delayed response is what makes this whole thing so dangerous. You might think the great inertia of the ocean and the ice sheets is our friend because we’ve seen a relatively slow response so far. But it’s very clear in the science that we’re building in bigger changes in the future, so there’s a danger of handing young people a system that’s out of their control. We’re setting up a situation that’s extremely dangerous. That’s just crystal clear in the science. *Editor's Note (4/10/17): This sentence has been updated with additional information since its original posting.
News Article | March 18, 2017
The world's temperature sweltered last month. It was the second warmest February of all Februaries in almost 140 years, according to data released this week. Data from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies revealed that the global temperature in February was 1.1 degrees Celsius above average. Last year's February recorded a temperature of 1.32 degrees Celsius, which was a breakaway from the average records in 137 years. The Japan Meteorological Agency has also recorded that last month was the second warmest since 1891. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also disclosed that February 2017 ranked second to last year's February trailing behind by a couple tenths of a degree in its set of data. The temperature anomaly was not so significant locally, but it has a tremendous impact in global scale where measurements were calibrated in terms of hundredths and tenths of degrees. The measurement of Earth's average temperature was done over land and sea. The latest data, however, is not surprising after the last three years had recorded warmer global temperatures. The years 2014, 2015, and 2016 had seen warm global temperature records, NASA said. The dataset from NASA covering the period of 1,629 months which dates back to 1880 showed that no single month before October 2015 had a temperature irregularity of 1 degree Celsius. There were eight months since October 2015 where an irregularity of warm temperatures was recorded. Seven of these eight months happened in succession from October 2015 to April 2016. The unusually warm February was experienced in central and eastern parts of Asia, Canada's central and southern regions, and in 16 states of the central and eastern parts of the United States. The central and eastern part of Russia had also its warmest temperature last month. It was also felt in Mexico and the polar region in the north. Sea ice in the Arctic had melted to around 455,600 square miles, which was lesser by 15,400 square miles compared to last year's record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The cooler than average temperatures were also recorded in some places, the NASA/GISS records revealed. These are the regions near the Pacific Ocean at the equator, Canada's southwest, the Baffin Island and the Baffin Bay, the Middle East, northeast Africa, and the western part of Australia. While it was the second warmest February worldwide, in these areas, February 2017 marked 379 months of colder-than-average month since July 1985. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 15, 2017
When climate deniers are desperate because the measurements don’t fit their claims, some of them take the final straw: they try to deny and discredit the data. The years 2014 and 2015 reached new records in the global temperature, and 2016 has done so again. Some don’t like this because it doesn’t fit their political message, so they try to spread doubt about the observational records of global surface temperatures. A favorite target are the adjustments that occur as these observational records are gradually being vetted and improved by adding new data and eliminating artifacts that arise e.g. from changing measurement practices or the urban heat island effect. More about this is explained in this blog article by Victor Venema from Bonn University, a leading expert on homogenization of climate data. And of course the new paper by Hausfather et al, that made quite a bit of news recently, documents how meticulously scientists work to eliminate bias in sea surface temperature data, in this case arising from a changing proportion of ship versus buoy observations. To illustrate the shenanigans of self-styled “climate skeptics”, take for example the following graph, which has been circulating for a while on climate denier websites. It beautifully illustrates two of the favorite tricks of climate deniers: cherry picking and deceptive trick graphics. Fig. 1 Revision history of two individual monthly values for January 1910 and January 2000 in the GISTEMP global temperature data from NASA (Source: WUWT ) If you look at the black arrows, do you have the impression that the 0.71 ° C temperature difference is mainly due to data adjustments? Because the arrow on the right is three times longer than that on the left? Far from it – can you spot the trick? In the vertical axis, 0.3 ° C is missing in the middle! The adjustment is actually only 0.26 °C. Even that is quite a lot of course – and that’s because it is an extreme example. The January 1910 shown is the month with the second largest downward correction, obviously cherry-picked from the 1,643 months of the data series. In the annual mean values and particularly for the temperatures since the Second World War, the corrections are minimal, as the following graph shows: Fig. 2 Revision history of global temperature data set from NASA. Here, too, one can see that in 1910 the greatest correction occurred. (Source: Goddard Institute for Space Studies ) This graph must be familiar to anyone who works with the NASA data, because it is in the notes to the data on the NASA site (even interactive). Incidentally, Gavin already debunked the misleading representation in Fig. 1 last March on Twitter. Anyone who shows you Fig. 1 without also explaining the big picture as shown in Fig. 2 is trying to fool you. A denier favorite is to suggest that NASA deliberately adjusts temperatures upward to exaggerate global warming. An absurd conspiracy theory, as demonstrated by the basic fact that the net effect of the data adjustments is to reduce global warming. The next figure shows this. If climate scientists were trying to exaggerate global warming they’d show you the unadjusted raw data! Fig. 3 The NASA data of global temperature compared to the uncorrected raw data (light blue) and two global temperature data sets from other institutes. (Source: Goddard Institute for Space Studies ) It is not surprising that you find such conspiracy theories on Anthony Watts’ sectarian blog WUWT, a place where climate science amateurs present earth-shattering insights to their echo chamber like: The CO2 increase is not due to burning fossil fuels, but to insects! Global warming is caused by the nuclear reactor in the Earth’s core! The warming of Antarctica comes from “waste heat from little pockets of humanity” there! The Greenland ice sheet can be at most 650 years old! (That’s obvious – how could the Vikings otherwise have grown crops there?) The claim that the NASA data can’t be trusted has recently turned up at WUWT once again because we had compared these data to a cooling forecast made by two German climate denialists, and the comparison wasn’t exactly looking good for that forecast. Fritz Vahrenholt and Sebastian Lüning, both former employees of Europe’s largest single CO2 emitter RWE, had made this forecast of imminent cooling in their 2012 book “Die kalte Sonne” (The cold sun), where this forecast is shown in relation to the HadCRUT surface temperature data in running mean over 23 months. So if they don’t like the fact that we compared their forecast to NASA’s GISTEMP data, let’s just do it with the HadCRUT data. Fig. 4 The “Cold Sun” forecast of Vahrenholt and Lüning compared with global surface temperatures of the British Meteorological Service (HadCRUT data), moving average over 23 months to end of October 2016. Graph: Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 . Hmm. Still not so convincing for the cold-sun forecast. Thus in defense of their forecast at WUWT, Vahrenholt and Lüning have therefore applied three tricks which reduce the discrepancy of data and forecast. But even with these three changes compared to the original forecast graph in The Cold Sun, Vahrenholt and Lüning don’t succeed in preventing the observed temperature curve from rising out of their forecast interval. They try to belittle that with the argument that last month’s value just returns to the top edge of the forcast interval – which is irrelevant, however, because this forecast does not apply to individual months, which are always strongly scattered. The second step alone – just switching from surface to the satellite data – would not have helped them much by the way, bringing only a reduction from 0.34 to 0.30 °C. One can guess that this is why Vahrenholt and Lüning have also extended the smoothing period from two to three years. But let’s accept this longer averaging period as a legitimate choice, since the forecast applies to the medium-term climate evolution and not short-term fluctuations, so that the latter can be filtered out by smoothing. Using a period of three years instead of just two will take out El Niño better. With the 37 months smoothing period the comparison looks as follows: Fig. 5 The “Cold Sun” forecast of Vahrenholt and Lüning compared with global surface temperatures of the British Meteorological Service (HadCRUT data), running average over 37 months. Graph: Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0. This still clearly falsifies the cooling forecast of Vahrenholt and Lüning. I have discussed this example here in some detail because it exemplifies the methods of so-called “climate skeptics”. People like Vahrenholt and Lüning trust that a layperson won’t notice their various tricks. An outsider can ultimately hardly recognize these unless he studies intensively the available data and scientific literature. However, applying some common-sense criteria can give a layperson a clear indication of the lack of credibility: the source is a “climate skeptics” website, there is no research institution and no professional climate scientists behind these claims, and there is no peer-reviewed publication with the cooling forecast, rather it is directed exclusively at a lay audience. Finally there is a connection of the authors to the fossil energy business. As in professional journalism, there are several levels of quality assurance in professional science. A long study and training time, which conveys methods and ethics (like the search for truth and the continuous questioning of own assumptions). The standards of good scientific practice (non-compliance, such as manipulation of data, can cost a scientist their job and future prospects.) The reputation as the greatest asset of the scientist and his research institution, that is rapidly lost when making wrong claims. Peer review, i.e. the critical assessment of scientific publications (and even institutions) by independent third parties (mostly competitors). And last but not least, the culture of critical, open debate, which is very much alive e.g. at conferences, which will quickly identify most problems or mistakes. None of this is infallible, and professional scientists sometimes make mistakes. For this reason, one should not necessarily believe every individual statement by a scientist, not even each peer-reviewed publication. It is better to base ones assessment on the bigger picture. There is good reason why every few years, hundreds of climate scientists from around the world voluntarily and unpaid tackle the big task of sifting through the scientific literature and debating it and summarizing the state of knowledge in the reports of the IPCC. There has long been an overwhelming consensus about the basic facts of global warming. Anyone who finds serious, defensible counter-evidence would quickly become famous – a place in the top journals Nature, Science or PNAS would be assured. The likelihood that you will find a scientific sensation on a shrill layperson website like WUWT is infinitely smaller than that you are simply being fooled there.
News Article | February 17, 2017
While January 2017 did not get a further temperature boost from the El Niño that affected the same period in the previous year, it doesn’t mean it’s not record warm. In fact, it has emerged as the third hottest January in 137 years of modern record-keeping. This finding was released by scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies of NASA, based on a monthly global temperature analysis. Last month, global temperature was 0.20 degrees Celsius (32.36 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than January 2016, the warmest recorded January, but it was 0.92 degrees Celsius (33.656 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the mean temperature of January from 1951 to 1980. On the upside, January 2017 appeared to be the first time in a while that global temperatures strayed from a steady upward trend, but it placed third among modern January records, where 2016 was the hottest at 1.12 degrees Celsius (34 degrees Fahrenheit) than the mean temperature. Not far behind it in second place is 2007 at 0.96 degrees Celsius (33.728 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the base period. The monthly GISS analysis is based on data from around 6,300 meteorological centers worldwide, ship- and buoy-based instruments that measure sea surface temperature, and research posts in the Antarctic region. Observations began in 1880, as the ones before that did not cover enough of Earth. A mild, rather short-lived La Niña episode came after 2016’s El Niño, but it has gone away, and no similar cooling influence is expected soon. As grimly forecasted, 2016 is the hottest year on the planet, and the third consecutive year to break the record in average global temperatures. It was 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average according to NASA, and 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the same period’s average based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year, there was a single land area on Earth that enjoyed lower-than-average temperatures. It was actually the third warmest year in a row, with January to August serving as the warmest on record. Tech Times also previously reported that in the United States, 2016 ranked second hottest in records since 1895. Last year, every single city and state in the Lower 48 states sizzled than usual, with almost 3 degrees higher than long-term average. Climate scientists warn about a consistent warming trend, although certain findings still point to a so-called global warming pause or when temperature rise appears to plateau. A study earlier this year, however, negated the idea and asserted that no, a specific set of NOAA data is not proof of a hiatus. Instead, the oceans have been warming at a relatively stable clip over the past 50 years. Scientists continue to highlight grim predictions of climate change effects. In the recently held Climate & Health Meeting in Atlanta, in place of the cancelled CDC summit, experts warned of heat waves, disease outbreaks, and mass-scale hunger as the likely public health risks. The World Health Organization estimated the climate crisis will lead to about 250,000 additional deaths every year from 2030 to 2050 because of these fatal risks. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Ice in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea region. “What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
News Article | March 1, 2017
It looks like spring is arriving in many parts of the country ahead of schedule, based on a new set of maps from a federal agency. Unusually warm temperatures have conquered large swathes of the United States, from coastal California and southern Nevada to southeastern Colorado and a number of Midwestern states, according to new maps from the USA National Phenology Network of the United States Geological Survey. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Feb. 2 and predicted six more weeks of winter, after which spring would spring ahead of historical norms in the United States. In fact, it already sprung 22 days ahead in Washington, the agency reported. The surprising weather changes, however, could come at environmental and economic costs. “[An earlier spring] poses significant challenges for planning and managing important issues that affect our economy and our society,” said USGS ecologist and USA-NPN executive director Jake Weltzin in a statement. The consequences include an influx of disease-carrying ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects, as well as a stronger pollen season that can spell trouble for persons with allergies. A longer crop-growing season can translate to some increased yields, but it can also be risky since returning to seasonal winter temperatures could bring snow or frost and kill crops that began growing too soon, the agency warned. These unusual season changes could also affect recreational activities including the timing of hunting and fishing seasons. The new findings are deemed consistent with records showing 2016 as the hottest year ever for Earth, as well as the third record-setting year in a row. The new maps reveal that 2017 is so far shaping up to be another warm year, with January emerging as the third hottest in 137 years. The team built the maps using climate change indicators known as Spring Indices, as well as through gathering recent U.S. heat and temperature data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service. Scientists have been aware for more than a decade that climate change is prompting spring to make its way into many U.S. states earlier than expected, the USGS noted. February, usually the third-coldest month every year, saw surprisingly high temperatures in the first three weeks. Climate scientists are not exactly sure why this happened, but they believe that the Arctic polar vortex — sometimes a source of cold spells in the country — had bigger effects on Russia and northern Europe, which experienced relatively cold winters. Furthermore, the contribution of natural factors to the record heat logged last year is seen close to zero, with the long-term trend being witnessed today surfacing as the consequence of human activity. It’s dominantly the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, said Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt. Data used for developing the maps were collected by volunteers sharing observations across the country. The USGS is calling for budding citizen scientists to join the project and collect observational data to improve the models’ accuracy, as well as create similar models for other plant and animal species. To join, one can visit www.NaturesNotebook.org, choose the location and species to oberve, and start the fun mission. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.