2014 To Be Hottest Year on Record? Arctic Ocean, West Antarctic Heat Spikes Amidst Scorching End to September

Strange and anomalous heating of the Earth’s surface waters. That’s what could best characterize the year of 2014. Waters warm enough to break world records and all arrayed in extraordinarily odd distributions.


The Summer of 2014 (June through August) was the hottest in the 135 year global temperature record and likely the hottest in at least 100,000 years. According to the National Climate Data Center, global temperatures were 0.88 degrees Celsius above the 1880 average and 0.71 degrees Celsius above average temperatures for the 20th Century.

Summer of 2014 temperatures slightly edged out previous heat records set in 1998 by 0.01 degrees Celsius. But 1998 was a year during which a raging El Nino was dumping immense volumes of Pacific Ocean heat into the atmosphere. This year, summer conditions displayed Pacific Ocean warmth in the Nino regions — but nowhere near enough heat anomaly to shove the equatorial region into El Nino status. So a luke-warm equatorial Pacific and possible pre El Nino in 2014 when combined with a raging human heat forcing of the atmosphere is enough to beat out the super El Nino of 1998 for record hottest summer, even if only by a hair.

Global land and ocean temperature anomalies summer 2014

(Summer of 2014 beats out 1998 as hottest on record amidst steady and ongoing rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Image source: NOAA’s National Climate Data Center.)

The hottest summer on record follows the hottest May on record and could well include the hottest September on record. This is a strong trend that may well be building 2014 into the hottest year on record. And all without a pronounced El Nino so far.

For if the final four months of this year all fall within the range of first to fifth hottest, 2014 will be a record breaker.

A Very Hot End to a Hot September

Preliminary GFS measures show that September of 2014 may well be in record-challenging range with global temperatures averaging between +0.4 C to +0.7 C above the already hotter than normal 1979 to 2000 period. It was a period that featured ramping polar heat amplification in both the Arctic and Antarctic. A period that followed summer of 2014 trends showing extreme high temperature departures in the Northern Pacific and even higher sea surface temperature departures in the Arctic Ocean regions near the Bering Strait.

The last day of September closed near the top of this hot temperature range with the global atmospheric anomaly at +0.69 C above the 1979 to 2000 average (which is about 0.3 to 0.4 C above the 20th Century average respectively).

September 30 temperature anomaly

(September 30 global temperature anomaly map. Image source: University of Maine.)

Analyzing the map above, we note strong polar amplification already advancing in the Arctic region with a +1.15 C positive anomaly. We would well expect this trend to continue through fall and winter due to a combination of factors including — the amplified impact of overburden greenhouse gasses during periods of seasonal darkness, a very strong observed heating of the sea surface in Arctic regions providing latent heat through the colder months, and pronounced atmospheric heat transport through ridiculously resilient ridging patterns over the northeastern Pacific and Scandinavia.

In the Southern Hemisphere, we’ve also observed an extraordinary polar heat spike ongoing over the region of West Antarctica in association with an anomalous atmospheric ridge feature in that region as well. West Antarctic temperature departures hit well above +20 C over recent days. This excessive warm anomaly was enough to drive the entire Antarctic zone to an extreme +3.09 C above that polar region’s average for this time of year. Though it is still early spring for the Antarctic, persistence of the West Antarctic ridge could have serious impacts come summer time. So the feature will bear watching.

Extreme temperature anomaly over West Antarctica

(Extreme positive temperature anomaly over West and Central Antarctica on September 30, 2014. Note the broad area of +20 C positive departure. Image source: University of Maine.)

Troubling Arctic Ocean Heat Spike

But perhaps the most troubling feature for September and, indeed, all of the summer of 2014 is a massive accumulation of far warmer than average surface ocean water in both the Northern Pacific and in the Arctic Ocean.

The Northern Pacific heat has occurred in conjunction with an anomalous 21 month long blocking pattern that has tended to fix in place a south to north flow pattern and far warmer than average land and ocean temperatures for the region. Sea surface temperatures in the range of 2-3 C above average for a swath from California to Alaska have remained in place for nearly two years running.

This feature and now prevailing associated south to north wind pattern appears to be driving warmer than normal waters through the Bering Strait and into the already vulnerable Arctic zone. There, the added warm water appears to have combined with the warming of a deeper, but sometimes surface influencing, warm water flow newly emerging from the Atlantic. These combined warm water flows have resulted in a broad swath of 4 C + above 1979 to 2000 average surface water temperatures ranging from the Bering Sea into the Chukchi, Beaufort, East Siberian, Laptev and Kara Seas of the Arctic Ocean.

Sea surface temperature anomaly global September 30

(Extreme global sea surface temperature anomaly of September 30, 2014 features extraordinary +4 C positive temperature departures in the Northern Polar Ocean. Image source: University of Maine.)

During recent years featuring very low Arctic sea ice measures, August, September and October have displayed very strong positive sea surface temperature anomalies in the Arctic. These extraordinary sea surface temperature values have tended to push global temperature averages higher with a number of global heat records set despite the presence of La Nina or ENSO neutral conditions in the Pacific. A clear instance where human-driven polar heat amplification and heating of the northern polar ocean is beginning to have a measurable and substantial impact on global temperature variation as well as overall rate of warming.

In general, we find much of the global ocean heat spike clustered near the northern polar zone. This is clearly visible in the anomaly color display on the map above together with the +0.27 C of added heat in the Northern Hemisphere surface ocean vs the Southern Hemisphere Ocean measure.

A final feature of this enhanced Arctic warming — increased instances of microbial blooms in northern ocean surface waters — was plainly visible in the MODIS shot during late September as well. In this case a massive bloom covering a 550 by 100 mile swath of the Bering Sea just south of the Bering Strait:

Microbial bloom Bering Sea September 28

(Massive Bering Sea microbial bloom as visible in the LANCE-MODIS satellite shot on September 28 of 2014. For reference, the Bering Strait is to the right of frame. Bottom edge of frame is about 500 miles. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

In these instances, concurrent with human-caused warming, large regions of newly ice free water contain higher nutrient content than more southerly waters. As the human heat forcing spurs these waters to above average temperatures, ocean microbial activity becomes more prolific — since larger numbers of microbes thrive in warmer conditions. The result has been the appearance of very large blooms in far northern waters during recent years.

Within Striking Distance of a Record Hot Year — Serious Implications For Weather and Climate

Despite a Pacific El Nino that appears to be set on slow to low burn, if the event appears at all, it appears possible that 2014 may be setting up for a record breaking year. The factors driving this event include a continued if very mild Pacific Equatorial warming together with far more troubling heat amplification driven by human greenhouse gas warming at the poles. The most troubling of these regions continues to be the Arctic. And the added heat there will almost certainly increase stress on vulnerable carbon stores as well as potentially add to the human-spurred havoc now playing out in northern hemisphere and global weather systems.

The disposition of early fall atmospheric heating with high ocean heat content near the northern polar zone certainly leaves wide the door to future polar vortex disruption come winter 2014-2015 together with providing a Jet Stream weakness that continues to facilitate Northeastern Pacific Ocean ridge development. And, in the case of the Northeastern Pacific especially, there are few challenges to that very disruptive and damaging pattern on the near term horizon (30 day).


NOAA’s National Climate Data Center

University of Maine



Ocean Heat Anomaly Spikes to New Extreme High of +1.16 C Above ‘Average’ on May 10, 2014

Ocean heat anomaly May 10 2014

(Global ocean surface temperature anomaly vs the 1979-2000 average. Data source: Global Forecast System Model. Image source: University of Maine.)

On May 10 global ocean surface temperatures hit a new extreme high for 2014 of +1.16 C above the already hotter than normal 1979-2000 average. This extraordinary temperature departure was driven in part by a warming of Equatorial Pacific waters to a +.59 C anomaly, putting that region in the range of a weak El Nino.

Overall, global ocean temperatures show very high positive anomalies in all regions with the mid-to-high latitude Northern Hemisphere oceans showing an extraordinary departure in the range of +1.36 C. Heat of particularly high anomaly values remains concentrated in surface zones in the North Pacific south of Alaska and in the Barents Sea, which over the past few years has displayed excessive warmth after a near permanent loss of seasonal sea ice cover. Hot spots in this zone continue to show +3 to +4 C above average temperature anomalies contributing to sea ice recession and weakness in the region east of Svalbard and on to the Laptev Sea.

An emerging Kelvin Wave off the West Coast of Ecuador has also created a high temperature anomaly hot spot in the range of +2.5 to +3.5 near the Nino 1 and 2 region. This expanding warm pool has been reinforced by broad area synoptic westerly winds counter to typical easterly trades which is pushing warm water toward the coasts of South and Central America.

Overall Equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures in central and eastern zones have ranged between +.4 and +.7 C above average depending on region. Though these temperatures are in the range of El Nino, they will have to maintain or increase for a period of two months for an official state of El Nino to be declared.

It is worth noting that since the base-line for the GFS summary given above is in the 1979-2000 range, total departures from 1880 values are likely in the range of .3 to .4 C hotter, putting the actual global anomaly for the date at around +1.5 C.

In context, the swing toward a weak though still strengthening El Nino pattern is already starting to push global sea surface temperatures into or near the record range. We will continue to provide updates as the situation progresses.


Global Forecast System Model

University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer


Ocean Heat Spikes and Atmospheric Rivers: Two Thousand Homes Destroyed in North Afghanistan Floods

The ocean-atmosphere system might well be described as an intricate pirouette between the forces of heat and moisture. Warming and cooling over the ocean and atmosphere alter the rate at which rains fall or lands dry. This interplay, called the hydrological cycle, is a primary governor the world’s weather, playing an integral part in both storm formation and dry spells alike.

As the Earth has warmed by about .8 degrees Celsius since 1880, this cycle of evaporation and precipitation, of drought and deluge at the extremes, intensified by about 6% on average. But this increase was uneven, pushed to even greater abnormalities when both the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean surface experienced periods of either strong warming or relative cooling. It was from this combined uneveness and overall warming trend which arose a number of increasingly severe and dangerous weather events.

Most recently, on April 22nd, global ocean surface temperatures hit a very high +1.12 degrees Celsius above average temperature anomaly (vs the 1979 to 2000 average). This warm pulse pumped both heat and moisture into the world climate system. During recent years, major ocean warming episodes have coincided with intense periods of extreme rainfall and drought around the globe. So when anomalies hit severe levels last week, risks rose that atmospheric rivers of moisture and related extreme rainfall events would intensify.

By April 24, two entrained storm systems had erupted from the much hotter than normal Mediterranean Sea casting their long, dark shadows over Western and Central Asia as they began a tortuously slow march toward North Afghanistan:

Afghanistan Floods

(Entrained storm systems which produced the Afghanistan Floods on April 24, 2014. Afghanistan is beneath the hurricane-like swirl of cloud in the lower right image frame. Note the second entrained storm system just west of the Black Sea. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

The result was a three-day-long rain event that destroyed over 2,000 homes in North Afghanistan impacting 10,000 families and resulting in the loss of 180 souls. Severe losses also extended to crops and livestock over a broad region of this Central Asian state as victims were forced to abandon farms and villages.

The inundation left many besieged by a violent swirl of raging waters spurring Afghanistan security forces to activation as helicopters were used to ferry stranded people to higher ground. Jawzjan provincial police chief Faqer Mohammad Jawzjani made this plea as the most recent Afghanistan weather disaster stretched resources to their limits:

“We have carried 1,500 people to safe areas of neighboring districts by helicopter. We need emergency assistance from the central government and aid agencies.”

Jawzjani’s pleas for assistance were echoed by local government officials throughout the stricken region as many more people remained isolated and without immediate help.

Afghanistan’s rugged terrain is particularly vulnerable to intense rain events. High volumes of rainfall channel through steep ravines and build up into large, wave-like flood pulses in Afghanistan’s heavily populated valleys. Low-lying homes constructed of mud and rock also often lack resiliency and are in danger of either collapse or inundation during severe storms.

As the Earth continues to warm under a relentless human greenhouse gas forcing, it is likely that both severe drought and rainfall events will continue to grown in frequency and intensity. Unfortunately, it is those who are most vulnerable — the poor and those who have contributed the least to the rapidly intensifying climate shock — who will bear the first and heaviest impacts.


Flash Floods Kill More Than 100 in Northern Afghanistan

How Global Warming Mangles the Jet Stream and Amps Up the Hydrological Cycle

Ocean Temperatures Hit Extraordinary +1.12 C Temperature Anomaly on April 22


Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Colorado Bob

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