NOAA Shows El Nino Yet to Have Full Impact on Global Temperatures — More Severe Warming During 2015 Likely in Store

2014 was the hottest year in the global climate record. It was a year when El Nino failed to get off the ground. And it was a year when CO2 levels were at or near 400 parts per million for most of the period.

Each of these points should be a matter of concern, especially as we confront a yet hotter year during 2015 in the face of a ramping El Nino and continually rising greenhouse gas concentrations from fossil fuel burning. Conditions that will likely continue to push record global heat toward ever more disturbing thresholds.

First Five Months of 2015 Hottest on Record; El Nino is Still Ramping Up

The most recent NOAA global analysis report and related updates highlight this potential and growing risk. First, NOAA data shows that the initial five months of 2015 were the hottest on record by a substantial margin. Hitting 0.85 C above the 20th Century average, this global heatwave beat out the previous hottest such period during 2010 by a substantial +0.09 C margin.

NOAA land and ocean temp anomalies

(NOAA shows extreme high temperature departures for the first five months of 2015. Image source: NOAA’s Global Analysis.)

These temperatures, basically 1.05 degrees Celsius above 1880s values in the NOAA measure, represent an extreme departure beyond norms over the past few thousands years and almost certainly exceed maximum Holocene values — putting the current age of human fossil fuel based warming in a context similar to the Eemian of 150,000 years ago. A context that is all the more dangerous and troubling due to a massive greenhouse gas overburden not seen in at least 3 million years and a very rapid ramping of overall global temperatures. A pace of warming and greenhouse gas accumulation possibly never seen in all the Earth’s deep history.

Of particular interest to the 2015 climate situation, however, is the fact that though 2010 was also an El Nino year and though 2015 has already hit significant positive temperature departures during its first five months, 2010 had already seen most of the El Nino heat build it was likely to experience by May. The Equatorial Pacific, during May of 2010 was starting a multi-month cool-down into La Nina. By contrast, 2015 is still ramping up to an El Nino event that, in some measures, is already stronger than the El Nino experienced during 2010. As a result, we are likely to see greater high temperature departures due to a ramping heat bleed coming off the Pacific as the months of 2015 continue to progress.

To this point NOAA notes:

The first five months of 2015 were the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 0.85°C (1.53°F) above the 20th century average, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.09°C (0.16°F). Consequently, 2010 was the last year with El Niño conditions; however El Niño was ending at this point in 2010, while it appears to be maturing at the same point in 2015.

NOAA’s ONI Adjustment Hints that Impact of Human Greenhouse Gas Emissions Was Greater, El Nino Less

Another issue is that NOAA also recently adjusted its Ocean Nino Index (ONI) downward for late 2014 and early 2015. ONI measures the intensity of El Nino by taking account of sea surface temperatures in the Central Pacific. What this means is that the slow start to the current El Nino was even slower and weaker than initially indicated. As a result, according to NOAA, El Nino’s variability-based influence of the record global temperatures experienced during 2014 and early 2015 was consequently less and the human greenhouse gas forcing’s impact was consequently more.

To this point it is important to emphasize that 2014 was not technically an El Nino year, yet new record high temperatures were experienced during that time. This is notable in that it implies the human heat forcing through greenhouse gas emissions is playing an ever greater role — crowding out the old signals and fluxes inherent to base natural global temperature variability.

Outside extreme weather events that are an upshot of this mangled variability have abounded during the first five months of 2015. During May, the State of Alaska experienced a massive temperature departure of 7 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Heat that has helped to set off a spate of extreme wildfires that now risk hazardous air quality for numerous Alaskan cities.

Bill Hurricane over Land

(Bill taking on the features of an organized cyclone over a water-logged Central US in yesterday’s MODIS shot. As of Thursday, some sections of Oklahoma has received a staggering 3 feet of rainfall in just six weeks. Image source: LANCE MODIS.)

The added heat appears to have also complicated normal El Nino variability by more greatly enhancing rainfall over affected regions than is typical. The Central US, in particular, has felt the brunt of this impact. During May, massive rainfall events brought flooding to Texas and Oklahoma. Sections of Oklahoma, as of yesterday, had experienced an unprecedented 3 feet of rain in just six weeks. A typical summer El Nino would somewhat enhance rainfall in this region. But not to the degree that we are seeing now. So the global warming-based amplification of the hydrological cycle is also likely in play. In this case, we see global warming and El Nino acting in concert to increase the likelihood of very extreme weather.

Though NOAA reports its data in a responsible, matter of fact, manner, it is important to consider the unprecedented nature of that information. What we are seeing is record warm years that occur increasingly outside the influence of El Nino, the ability of moderate El Nino heat flux to generate significant record global high temperature departures, and a tendency of strong El Nino periods to push global heating toward terrific ranges. These are all indications of an Earth System that is ranging ever more out of a context that the human beings and the creatures of this world are adapted to live in. Indications that we are rapidly moving toward a dangerous and extinction event producing Hothouse Climate. In this very rapid initial warming the likelihood of dangerous weather — heatwaves, fires, heavy rainfall events, intense storms — is thus increased. In addition, the push toward dangerous geophysical changes such as more rapid glacial melt and associated sea level rise becomes that much more intense and imminent.

Media Fails to Responsibly Report Warnings from Scientists, Religious Leaders

The NOAA report is a signal of a condition of increasing climate crisis that should be reported widely and with all due urgency. By contrast, the tendency of global media (especially the individually-owned megamedia monopolies such as NewsCorp) to downplay, to sweep such reports under the rug, to attack such reports outright, or to only portray them in the most narrow of contexts is therefore vastly and unforgivably irresponsible (shout out to noted exceptions like The Guardian or underground and peripheral sources like RealClimate, WeatherUnderground, The Independent, The Arctic Sea Ice Blog, Dot.Earth and ThinkProgress).

The global scientific community and major religious leaders like the Pope (see the Pope’s loud and clear urging for global climate action here) are well aware of the situation and the calls for action from these responsible, moral leaders are growing louder and more urgent. The failure of media to appropriately relay that call and to generate action on the part of the public can only be seen, at this point, as an aspect of a dangerous allegiance to destructive and amoral businesses (fossil fuel industry), to individual interests who have a financial stake in a larger failure to respond to this crisis, and to political ideologies that are so filled with hubris as to be blind to an obvious and ramping existential crisis. Media, in this case, has thus become complicit in a failure to appropriately act, enhancing the intensity of the crisis, reducing the effectiveness of the response, and worsening the harm and increasing loss of life and livelihood to follow. A continuation of this failure would constitute nothing less than complicity in climate change denial and related harms. History, should history remain in tact following a failure to fully respond, will judge such a failure in the harshest possible terms.

Links:

NOAA’s Global Temperature Analysis (Support Public, Non-Special Interest Based Science)

NOAA ONI Index

LANCE MODIS

The Pope’s Call for Climate Action

Hat Tip to Tom Cobbler

Stop The War to Silence Science, End Egregious Cuts To Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Now

Here we stand at the cusp. At the brink. At the precipice of the crisis that will certainly define this century. An extraordinarily dangerous human alteration of the climate that, at its end, could be far more destructive and deadly than any war. A growing and emerging monstrosity created by us. One which, should we continue to feed it, would plunge us into the heart of one of the blackest climatological eras ever experienced on this planet.

We know there is danger. And we have known it for some time due to the clarity and accuracy of our vision. A vision provided to us by a scientific understanding of our world that is the pinnacle of human progress. For if there is one thing that we should be proud of, that we could all share in as a great victory for our race, it would be the knowledge and understanding that we have gained in our long and tempestuous rise from darkness.

Global CO2 levels since 1700

Global temperatures since 1880

(Upper graph: Global CO2 concentrations since 1700. Lower graph: Global temperatures since 1880 as measured at the world’s meteorological stations. Image sources: The Keeling Curve and NASA GISS.)

And yet now, at the brink of crisis, we are at risk of having the new senses provided to us by science, senses we depend upon so much for that knowledge, that vision we need most desperately, begin to fade, to dim, to wink out. For the monitors we use to track the crisis are steadily being de-funded and are at risk of going dark.

Just this past Christmas Eve, Dr. Ralph Keeling, son of the renowned Dr. Charles David Keeling, made a public appeal for increased funding of the critical Mauna Loa Observatory’s CO2 Monitor. The funds, you see, after more than 40 years of cuts to critical scientific research, research often labeled by political opponents to be ‘wasteful government spending,’ were at risk of short-fall. So Dr. Keeling, a scientist in the crucial and much-needed field of atmospheric monitoring, was forced, by the most greedy and heartless among us, who only see the gift beyond price that is human science as a tax burden equivalent to ‘wasteful government spending,’ to pan handle for the continued funding of his, all-too-necessary and growing ever more important with each passing day, mission.

Dr Keeling’s appeal was the very modicum of dignity and candor. And it contained hardly a jot of the outrage which he, and the rest of us, should justifiably feel. Instead, he simply and candidly reminded us of the importance of his ongoing mission:

Friends,

I am writing as the director of the Scripps CO2 and O2 programs, which keep track of how these vital gases are changing in the atmosphere over time.  The CO2 measurements include the iconic Mauna Loa record, now commonly known as the “Keeling Curve”, which was started by my father in the late 1950s.

The O2 measurements, carried out on samples from Mauna Loa and many other stations, also provide critical information about how the planet is changing.  The measurements show that the world’s O2 supply is slowly decreasing, and have helped prove that the CO2 increase is caused by fossil fuel burning, but offset by natural sinks of CO2 in the land and oceans.

The need to continue these measurements has not diminished. The planet is undergoing dramatic changes, unprecedented for millions of years.  This past year, our group reported that CO2 topped 400 parts per million at Mauna Loa for the first time…

The Scripps CO2 and O2 measurements now face severe funding challenges.  The situation is most urgent for the O2 measurements.  These measurements have been supported for decades through proposals submitted every few years to the federal agencies.  The value of these measurements is not questioned, but federal funding for these programs has never been so tenuous.  This is the basis for this unusual to the public at large…

I have struggled throughout my career to cope with [funding challenges], and I will continue the struggle.  The quest for continued federal support will not end.

For now, I ask for your support so that we can keep up these activities and sustain our watch on the planet in this time of unprecedented global change.

Sincerely,

Ralph F. Keeling

(I’ve abbreviated Dr. Keeling’s appeal for this post. That said, I fully urge you to read the entire appeal at his blog The Keeling Curve, to help spread word of his appeal far and wide, and to donate generously.)

Now, as Dr. Keeling knows all too well, 400 ppm CO2 is a big deal. If the world were to remain at this level for an extended period, global temperatures would eventually stabilize between 2-3 degrees hotter than the 20th Century Average. Analysis of the dramatic changes, including a 15-75 foot sea level rise, massive expansion of deserts, a reduced productivity of lands and oceans, and dangerous changes to the world’s weather as it undergoes this temperature transition would put most if not all human civilizations at risk of collapse. Failure to heed this warning and rapidly stabilize and then reduce CO2 levels would risk these and far worse consequences. Yet despite this danger, we are rapidly heading on toward 450, 550, 650 ppm CO2 or more.

NASA has rightly labeled atmospheric CO2 concentration ‘the global thermostat’ and if you want to get a good idea of where the temperature is heading, you need to keep an eye on the thermostat needle. Dr. Keeling’s research gives us that needle. And without the measure his research provides, we are flying blindly into a world of worsening and ever more dangerous weather.

Methane Monitoring Cut as Well

Sadly, Dr. Keeling’s essential monitoring is not the only measure at risk of funding cuts. According to a recent report in Live Science, monitoring of another essential greenhouse gas, methane, has fallen by 25% due to ongoing cuts and is now at serious risk of collapsing. Ed Dlugokencky, an atmospheric chemist with NOAA’s Earth Sciences Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado noted:

“We’ve had about a 25 percent decrease in the number of air samples measured from the global cooperative network. If we want to understand what is happening [with methane], we’re going in the wrong direction to do that.”

While CO2 is the primary driver of current warming, methane is, increasingly, an indicator of one of the worst amplifying feedbacks due to human caused change. Massive volumes of methane lay stored in tundra and on the sea bed. Should these stores, which are sensitive to heating, be released into the atmosphere, they could add substantial additional warming on top of the warming already set in play by CO2 increases.

methane-concentration

(Global Methane Distribution Indicative of Large Arctic Emissions. Image source: NASA)

Recent reports and studies have found evidence of an increasing Arctic emission of methane, one that has possibly exceeded 90 megatons annually. Though not yet catastrophic, this increasing emission is a serious concern and we would be very unwise to stop taking measures of this very volatile and potentially dangerous atmospheric gas.

As is the case with Dr. Keeling, cuts in funding to scientific monitoring of these gases are as egregious as they are short sighted. The scientists and the research efforts they provide go to benefit us all. They work diligently to serve our interest and to give us the best information along with the means to make sound decisions, should we choose to. They are not wealthy and could have probably earned far more using their considerable intellects to game the stock market, for example, or to aid CEOs in determining how best to off shore US jobs to cheap, easily exploitable foreign labor.

There is no tax cut for the top 1 percent, no foreign oil war, no subsidy to the fossil fuel industry that is more important than funding this scientific effort and these selfless public servants who work so diligently on our behalf. So we should do everything necessary — increase taxes on the wealthy, stop fighting wasteful wars, and stop subsidizing dirty and dangerous industries — in order to provide the support needed to continue this vital service to humankind.

And as for those dark political and social forces that, as they did in Canada with the dismemberment, looting, and dissolution of scientific libraries, seek to suppress the accumulation of knowledge about how our world operates and, yes, responds to the harm we’ve inflicted upon it — they should be banished back to the dark ages from which they arose. They have no place here. Not at this time of clear and present danger. They are traitors to human progress, to our civilizations and, ultimately, to the vitality of life on this world. And they should be swept aside lest, one by one, we all, and not just the scientists, be silenced.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NASA GISS

NASA’s Earth Observatory

NASA: CO2 Acts as Global Thermostat

Live Science

In Book-buring Like Episode, Conservatives in Canada Destroy Scientific Libraries

Hat tip to Colorado Bob

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