This story has been updated. On Friday, NASA released the latest temperature data for the globe, showing that March of 2016 was the hottest March on record since reliable measurements began in 1880. The month was 1.28 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than the average temperature in March from 1951 through 1980, with particularly scorching temperatures in the Arctic (as has been the case throughout this year so far). This follows on temperatures for January and February that, NASA data show, were also the warmest for their respective months in the agency’s dataset. The February departure even prompted the following Tweet from Gavin Schmidt, who directs the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies: If you dip back into last year, meanwhile, you find still more monthly temperature records – but you’ll also note that the temperature departures in 2016 have, so far, exceeded even those in 2015, the official warmest year on record. This extreme heat around the world, which scientists believe reflect both a now-weakening El Nino event and also the background influence of climate change, has traveled alongside striking impacts. Coral reefs are bleaching and in some cases dying, Greenland has shown major melting earlier in the year than at any time on record, and Arctic sea ice has set several records so far this year for low winter extent. Stefan Rahmstorf, a researcher with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has already shown just how much change these data represent since the year 1880: The analysis suggests that, if temperatures indeed persist at these high levels, then the globe might be nearing a 1.5 degree Celsius increase over pre-industrial temperatures, which is one of the thresholds that the international community has recognized as important to avoid. And as if that’s not enough, NASA’s Schmidt just predicted, based on the first three months of this year alone, that 2016 as a whole will set another all time temperature record, outdistancing both 2014 and 2015: And it’s not just NASA data: The Japan Meteorological Agency recently also found that March 2016 was the hottest March in its temperature dataset, which goes back to 1891. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also keeps a dataset constructed in a somewhat different way from NASA’s, has not yet reported on March’s global temperatures — its assessment is expected next week. And then, there are the satellites – the temperature datasets relied upon most by those who tend to question climate change. These, too, have been showing quite hot temperatures lately. According to the University of Alabama-Huntsville team, March of 2016 saw the third largest warm anomaly, or departure from average, of any month in their satellite dataset, which goes back to late 1978. The month was 0.73 degrees Celsius, or 1.31 degrees Fahrenheit, above average, the group reported, for a region of the atmosphere known as the “lower troposphere” (from the Earth’s surface up to about 6 miles into the atmosphere). That made it the warmest March on record, and the third most anomalously hot month other than February of this year and April of 1998 (which fell during another strong El Nino event). We still haven’t sorted out all the consequences of the burst of major heat that the planet is now seeing, and with El Nino fading, it isn’t expected to continue at this high of a pitch. Still, it’s startling – bringing into focus, perhaps as never before, what a warming planet really looks like. Yes, you should listen to Bill Nye instead of Sarah Palin on climate change This Baltimore 20-year-old just won a huge international award for taking out a giant trash incinerator These striking numbers show just how fast we’re switching off coal For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
Venus might have once been prime real estate. New computer simulations suggest that the hellish planet next door could have been habitable in the not-too-distant past, with moderate temperatures, plenty of seaside locales and even a few spots for skiing. Modern Venus is harsh: sulfuric acid rain, crushing atmospheric pressure and a surface temperature around 460° Celsius. But if Venus maintained its glacial rotation rate for much of its history — one day lasts roughly 116 Earth days — then the average temperature could have been around 15° C as recently as 715 million years ago. The findings were published online August 11 in Geophysical Research Letters. “This is a very speculative, hypothetical paper,” says Mark Bullock, a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. It doesn’t prove that Venus was habitable, he says, but the researchers do show that conditions existed under which Venus could have maintained oceans and a temperate climate for billions of years. “Rotation rate is really key,” says lead author Michael Way, an astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Venus’ odd rotation — not only is it poky but it’s backwards relative to most other planets in the solar system — has long been an enigma. One idea is that it once spun more swiftly, but gravitational interactions between its atmosphere and the sun slowed it down. Way and colleagues combined climate simulations with Venus topography data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, which orbited Venus from 1990 to 1994, to test how rotation rates might have affected the Venusian climate. They find that if Venus has held on to its current spin speed, it could have been more Earth-like for billions of years. And as long as it spun no faster than roughly once every 16 Earth days, and had a shallow global ocean to help regulate temperatures, the planet could have been toasty but habitable. On Earth, the relatively brisk rotation of the planet breaks the atmosphere into distinct churning cells that help keep the climate in check. Venus doesn’t turn fast enough to whip up its atmosphere. Instead, a long-lasting cloud formation arises over the sun-facing side of the planet, the researchers find. The cloud reflects enough sunlight to keep the surface balmy for a couple of billion years before temperatures escalate, leading to the current suffocating conditions. Some locations could even have seen occasional snow, and the northern highlands of Ishtar Terra could have maintained a year-round snowpack roughly 5 meters deep, the researchers report. But these conclusions depend on assumptions that might not be reasonable, says Fred Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oxford. The researchers assume, for example, that Venus once had a predominantly nitrogen atmosphere with a pressure similar to Earth’s — a choice that’s not likely, says Taylor. “Venus probably has never been habitable,” he says. Future missions to Venus can test some of these assumptions. An orbiter or lander could look for evidence of granite, for example, which requires water. “That would really be the smoking gun for this hypothesis that Venus held on to oceans for a long time,” Bullock says. The Japanese Akatsuki probe is currently studying the planet’s climate (SN: 1/9/16, p. 14), and NASA is considering two ideas for sending a spacecraft as early as 2020.
News Article | February 23, 2016
Millions of people face the detrimental effects of climate change and air pollution on their health as it is now dubbed the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Research Scientists predict that if the United States would cut carbon emissions, it may save about 295,000 lives by 2030. Researchers from Duke University and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said if the carbon emissions will be reduced enough to avoid a 2-degree Celsius increase in global warming, it could prevent premature deaths in the coming years. "Many people view climate change as a future problem, but our analysis shows that reducing emissions that cause warming — many of which also contribute to air pollution — could benefit public health here and now," said Drew T. Shindell, from Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. Reducing carbon emissions could also save about $250 billion worth of health benefits because of overall improved public health of residents. This means that the large amount of savings would exceed the cost of implementing better transportation and clean energy programs. "Near-term national benefits are valued at ~$250 billion (140 billion to 1,050 billion) per year, which is likely to exceed implementation costs. Including longer-term, worldwide climate impacts, benefits roughly quintuple, becoming ~5-10 times larger than estimated implementation costs," the researchers concluded and published in the journal Nature. "Achieving the benefits, however, would require both larger and broader emissions reductions than those in current legislation or regulations," they added. By 2030, an estimated 175,000 premature deaths could be prevented while clean transportation can also prevent about 120,000 premature deaths, annually thereafter. Carbon and fuel emissions contribute not only to the growing problem of climate change, but also the increasing amount of particulate pollution matter in the air. Small pieces of these pollutants may pose serious health problems such as respiratory problems, cardiovascular disorders and premature death. Previous studies have linked air pollution to many diseases. The inhalation of polluted air could aggravate the condition of people already suffering from respiratory diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive respiratory disorder (COPD). Currently, it is estimated that air pollution kills 3 million people each year and by 2050, the figure could increase two fold.
Last year shattered 2014’s record to become the hottest year since reliable record-keeping began, two U.S. government science agencies announced Wednesday in yet another sign that the planet is heating up. 2015’s sharp spike in temperatures was aided by a strong El Niño weather pattern late in the year that caused ocean waters in the central Pacific to heat up. But the unusual warming started early and steadily gained strength in a year in which 10 of 12 months set records, scientists said. The new figures, based on separate sets of records kept by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could fuel debate over climate change in an election year in which the two main political parties remain divided over what to do about global warming and, indeed, whether it exists. “2015 was by far the record year in all of the temperature datasets that are based on the instrumental and surface data,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at NASA, which made the announcement jointly with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It really underlines the fact that the planet really is still warming, there is no change in the long term global warming rate, and we know why that is,” he said. NASA reported that 2015 was officially 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 degrees Celsius) hotter than 2014, the prior record year, a sharp increase for a global temperature record in which annual variation is often considerably smaller. NOAA’s figures showed slightly greater warming, of about 0.29 degrees Fahrenheit (0.16 degrees C) hotter than 2014. “A lot of times, you actually look at these numbers, when you break a record, you break it by a few hundredths of a degree,” said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “But this record, we literally smashed. It was over a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit, and that’s a lot for the global temperature.” Overall, NOAA said, 2015 was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average. NASA and NOAA both keep independent global surface temperature datasets, measuring temperatures over both the land and the oceans using thermometers, ocean buoys and ship readings. The datasets do not always agree perfectly, but they showed relatively little disagreement this year, Schmidt said. The latest record means that 2014 — the previous record year — only officially held that title for one year. 2014 came by its record by a relatively narrow margin — for instance, NASA gave 2014 a 38 percent chance of having been the warmest year on record, still reserving a nontrivial chance that the real warmest year had been 2010 or 2005. (NOAA gave a 48 percent chance that 2014 had, at the time, been the warmest year.) [Sorry, skeptics: NASA and NOAA were right about the 2014 temperature record] This year, in contrast, there is little need for citing percentages or a statistical photo finish. Buoyed by a powerful El Niño event, 2015 shattered the 2014 record. NASA’s Schmidt suggests there is only a 5 percent possibility that any other year on record was actually warmer. Fifteen of the 16 hottest years on record have now occurred in this century, according to NASA. U.S. officials stressed that the El Niño pattern alone does not account of the year’s record warmth. “The interesting thing is that 2015 did not start with an El Niño,” Schmidt said. “It was warm right from the beginning.” Because a strong El Niño still is in place, “2016 is expected to be an exceptionally warm year, and perhaps even another record,” Schmidt said. The release of the 2015 temperature data prompted statements from leading Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton, in a Twitter posting, said, “Climate change is real. It’s hurting our planet and our people. We can’t afford a president who ignores the science.” The Sanders campaign also tweeted a response, saying. “Climate change is real and caused by human activity. This planet and its people are in trouble.” There was no immediate comments from the major GOP contenders, several of whom have been openly skeptical of the mainstream scientific view that human activity is causing the planet to warm. Front-runner Donald Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax. According to the NOAA analaysis on Wednesday, every month in 2015 broke previous temperature records except for two: January and April. NOAA also announced Wednesday that for December, the “temperature departure from average was also the highest departure among all months in the historical record and the first time a monthly departure has reached 2°F.” From a climate policy perspective, the warmth of 2015 is also highly significant. Global leaders in Paris agreed in December that the planet should not be allowed to warm 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures — and ideally, warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible. Based on 2015’s temperature record, though, we’re already half way to 2 degrees. “This is the first year where the record is clearly above 1 degree Celsius above the 19th century,” said NASA’s Schmidt. NOAA’s data also show that the planet is now more than 1 degree Celsius warmer than the average temperature between 1880 and 1899, said the agency’s Karl. 2015’s El Niño enhanced heat was accompanied by dramatic weather events across the globe, including a record for the number of Category 3 or greater tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere. That tally includes Hurricane Patricia, the most intense hurricane ever recorded by the National Hurricane Center. [The Northern Hemisphere’s record shattering tropical cyclone season by the numbers] In some ways most ominously of all, 2015 was the year that scientists announced that an entirely new sector of Greenland — one containing over three feet of potential sea level rise — appeared to have been destabilized. The region is centered on the Zachariae and Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glaciers of northeast Greenland, which together comprise the endpoint of the northeast Greenland ice stream, which drains 12 percent of the vast ice sheet. 2015’s record warmth also included a major anomaly — very cold temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean to the south of Greenland. Monthly NOAA temperature maps repeatedly showed a blue colored “blob” of cold in this region, a development that is sparking increasing scientific interest, because of the suspicion that it could represent a sign of a change in the overturning circulation of the ocean. “In the northern North Atlantic, temperatures were colder than normal, and that was really pretty much the only part of the world that had a sizeable area with below average temperatures,” Karl said. [Why some scientists are worried about a surprisingly cold ‘blob’ in the North Atlantic Ocean] It certainly isn’t the case that the 2015 temperature record can be entirely attributed to the warming of the globe by human greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change has never meant that every successive year will be warmer than the last, and the powerful 2015 El Niño unlocked immense heat from the Pacific Ocean that drove up the global temperature. But at the same time, 2015 was also considerably hotter than 1998, another major El Niño year that was, at the time, the hottest year on record. Now, in contrast, it’s fifth or sixth on the list, depending on which agency you consult. And that, say experts, is how the warming of the planet makes itself felt. “It’s breaking the record because we also have this unusually strong El Niño, but at the same time we know the ocean is now absorbing two times more heat than around the last time we had a big El Niño, which is quite a while ago,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. There has been some talk in scientific circles that 2016 could be even hotter overall than 2015 — which would lead to three record years in a row. The reasoning here is that there is usually a significant lag between when El Niño peaks and when the warming of the globe does in its wake. Thus, 1998 was the hottest year of the 1997-1998 El Niño event. Britain’s Met Office recently forecast that 2016 could be “at least as warm, if not warmer” than 2015, in the words of research fellow Chris Folland. “In previous El Niño years, they peak in the wintertime … [and] the warmest temperatures are in the subsequent year,” said NOAA’s Karl. “If 2016 continues like we’ve seen in the past, that would suggest 2016 is going to be very close to a record or even a new record.” However, not all scientists agree. “My guess is that 2016 may not be warmer than 2015,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate change and El Niño expert at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He thinks the current El Niño may already have begun to peak (or have peaked) and thus that the second half of 2016 may cool down again somewhat. In 2015, record warm temperatures and a growing focus on addressing global warming seemed in curious sync. It was the year that Pope Francis released his historic encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, and the year in which the United States moved to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of electricity, their largest single source. Most significant, as heat records over the year accumulated, nations of the world assembled in Paris to forge a global climate agreement that will serve as the template for locking in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades. It’s hard to say that 2015’s warmth directly contributed to these human decisions, and yet it’s also hard to entirely separate the two. The stark warming of the globe in 2015 clearly imparted a newfound sense of policy urgency. “NASA has been talking about the existence of global warming in public since 1988,” said Schmidt. “1988 was also a record warm year for the time. Just so that people understand, it is now 23rd in the rankings.” Scientists say human greenhouse gas emissions have canceled the next ice age Why clean energy is now expanding even when fossil fuels are cheap Why we’ve been hugely underestimating the overfishing of the oceans For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | January 25, 2016
New analysis from NASA and NOAA concludes that 2015 saw the Earth’s surface encounter its warmest temperatures since modern record keeping began. Independent analyses carried out by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that “globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius).” Specifically, the temperatures during 2015 “continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.” Both NASA and NOAA, having conducted independent analyses, concluded that 2015 was the warmest year on record, but there is a slim chance of 6% that uncertainty in individual values gathered might rescind this particular record — though not by enough to impact the long-term global warming trend we are seeing. “Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA’s vital work on this important issue affects every person on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Today’s announcement not only underscores how critical NASA’s Earth observation program is, it is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice – now is the time to act on climate.” Many will be aware that phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña have an impact on global surface temperatures — in this case, warming or cooling the tropical Pacific Ocean respectively; during most of 2015, a warming El Niño was in effect. “2015 was remarkable even in the context of the ongoing El Niño,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “Last year’s temperatures had an assist from El Niño, but it is the cumulative effect of the long-term trend that has resulted in the record warming that we are seeing.” Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.” Come attend CleanTechnica’s 1st “Cleantech Revolution Tour” event → in Berlin, Germany, April 9–10. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.