Rapid pace of changing climate gets special emphasis in new status report

NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory
A satellite image of Super Typhoon Haiyan with the Philippine islands in outline.

The climate is changing more rapidly in today’s world than at any time in modern civilization. … If we look at it like we’re trying to maintain an ideal weight, then we’re continuing to see ourselves put more weight on from year to year.

Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as quoted in The Christian Science Monitor on Monday.

The “State of the Climate in 2013” report came out at the end of last week, offering a selection of global-warming superlatives of the most troubling kind for last year:

  • Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, whose records go back to 1958. (Yes, that’s the greenhouse-gas measure from which the climate advocacy group 350.org derived its name, in reference to the level that many scientists have set as the maximum that a livable planet Earth can sustain).
  • Sea surface temperatures in the North Pacific were the warmest on record, in the absence so far of El Niño/La Niña influences.
  • Record high temperatures were recorded at 20-meter depths in the Arctic permafrost of Alaska.
  • Australia recorded its warmest year ever.

And though these measures mark extremities, they are not aberrations so much as notable examples of overall, continuing — and worsening — trends in the climate systems of a warming world, as documented in State of the Climate in 2013:

  • Depending on which of four international data sets is used, 2013 ranks as either the second warmest year record or the sixth, with the global average temperature somewhere between 0.2 and 0.21 degrees C. (o.36 to 0.38 F) above the average for the period 1981 to 2010.
  • Australia’s hottest-ever year also saw Argentina record its second-warmest, and New Zealand its third-warmest. A weather station at the South Pole recorded its warmest temperature in a record going back to 1957.
  • Atmospheric CO2 went up 2.8 ppm to a global average of 395.3 for the year; in the Arctic, the 400 ppm mark was passed in the spring of 2012.
  • Arctic sea ice extent was the sixth lowest since observations began 25 years ago; all seven of the lowest measures of sea-ice extent have occurred in the last seven years; overall, the Arctic recorded its seventh-warmest year since the early 1900s.

One record-setting aberration also worth noting: Though 2013 was only slightly above normal in its number of tropical cyclones, Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia in November, generated the highest sustained wind speeds ever attributed to such storms — 196 miles per hour.

24-year, peer-reviewed series

“State of the Climate in 2013,” the 24th report in an annual series, draws on the work of 425 scientists in 57 countries; their findings are published as a peer-reviewed paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. (The full 262-page report can be downloaded here.)

The observations by data center director Tom Karl that appear at the top of this piece have been quoted widely in coverage of the new report, and I think there’s good reason for that.

This report marshals considerable evidence in support of the notion that the pace of climate change is not always or necessarily slow, although it can seem so when you read about projections of greenhouse-gas concentrations and temperature trends stretching out for decades, a century, or even longer.

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At the same time, Karl has touched on the great disconnect between our knowledge of the problem and its causes, and our willingness to take serious and concerted action to change course. When it comes to fossil-fueled global warming we are, metaphorically speaking, a community of morbidly obese people who understand exactly where our excess pounds came from, and  precisely what we need to do to take them off, and yet we think and talk and commiserate about all this at great length as we cut ourselves additional slices of banana cream pie.

Conservatism of science

Just before State of the Climate in 2013 came out, there was a National Research Council report that focused on the rapidity of warming trends in the Arctic and a process called “arctic amplification,” which is driving a warming trend at twice the pace of the overall global trend.

National Climactic Data Center
Global surface temperatures of 2013 in terms of their departure from an average computed for the period 1981-2010; the region of central North America including Minnesota was actually cooler than average.

This got the attention of Bruce Melton, who writes about global warming at Truthout and elsewhere, and he made a point that I think is interesting to consider in the context of State of the Climate in 2013 and its distinguishing emphasis on the rapidity of change.

Melton argues that  the various forms of scientific consensus on global warming — the touchstones that serious-minded, concerned people are perpetually defending from assault by the braying denialist claques — are in fact conservative assessments that almost certainly understate the pace and impacts of global warming. Excerpts, lightly compressed:

Science is a conservative industry that classically understates fact. If a scientist is wrong in his or her published findings, the scholarly journals will think twice about publishing that scientist’s work again. Science therefore systematically understates evidence.

The consensus process, like that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is even more conservative (underestimating) in their statements because of the large number of individual scientists who must agree on the consensus position.

Scientists are specialists. Almost all of them specialize in minute sectors of science as a whole. For large numbers of climate scientists to agree on a statement, they must be familiar with the leading edge of science that that statement discusses. In the highly compartmentalized world of research science, details of all disciplines are seldom understood by all. The consensus opinion is therefore constantly behind the leading edge of science. With a rapidly changing climate, this can be a problem.

In our old climate, we sort-of knew how it behaved. We had decades and even centuries of records to use to project changes into the future. But all of this historical data may be of much less use in the future as the baseline physics have now changed. Even more critical, the short term is now very important as tipping points may appear at any time.

Another interesting take turned up over at climatecentral.org, where Brian Kahn focused on State of the Climate in 2013’s findings about rapid warming trends in surface sea temperatures, and on the implications for the next El Niño event.

With 2014 halfway over, there are no signs that the globe’s hot streak is ending. Data through May shows that this has been the planet’s fifth-warmest start to the year on record. Jessica Blunden, a scientist who works with  the National Climate Data Center, said that preliminary data show that June’s ocean temperatures were the hottest on record, a sign that 2014 is  on track to be one of the hottest years recorded.

Another factor tipping the scales in that direction is the impending El Niño, a climate phenomenon that usually boosts global temperatures. Other indicators like greenhouse gas emissions, Arctic sea ice and deep ocean heat are also likely to keep following suit.

A week earlier, Kahn’s Climate Central colleague Andrea Thompson had this to say about the next Niño:

The latest update from the Climate Prediction Center, issued Thursday, finds that conditions still aren’t quite in place to declare a full-blown El Niño, though forecasters still expect one to emerge by the fall. If and when it does, it is expected to impact weather and climate across the world and could push 2014 or 2015 to be the hottest year on record.

While the atmospheric characteristics that indicate an El Niño have been evident intermittently, they have yet to firmly take hold. Ocean surface temperatures have also fluctuated, though there is still considerable heat below the surface to fuel an El Niño, said Michelle L’Heureux, a CPC meteorologist who helps put together the monthly outlooks.

The update, issued in conjunction with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, kept the chances of an El Niño being in place by later this summer and by fall to early winter at about the same as last month, 70 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

* * *

Bonus link: State of the Climate in 2013 offers an interactive map of extreme weather events and anomalies of the past three years, clickable by location and searchable by type and year, with attributions to El Niño/La Niña patterns where appropriate.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/22/2014 - 09:58 am.

    In the flavor of the saying, “Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes”, the impossibility of denying the already present changes moves the denial community to “climate always changes and there is nothing that we have done or can do to affect that”. At least that is the new direction laid out in the Heartland convention in Las Vegas, along with the idea that the changes coming will bring us to a better place:
    .
    (quote)

    But, as the conference organizers are quick to tell you, they aren’t actually climate change deniers. The majority of this year’s speakers readily acknowledge that the climate is changing. Some­ will even concede that human emissions are playing a role. They just think the solutions are likely to be far worse than the problem.

    “I don’t think anybody in this room denies climate change,” the Heartland Institute’s James M. Taylor said in his opening remarks Monday. “We recognize it, but we’re looking more at the causes, and more importantly, the consequences.” Those consequences, Taylor and his colleagues are convinced, are unlikely to be catastrophic—and they might even turn out to be beneficial.

    Don’t call them climate deniers. Call them climate optimists.

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/07/climate-optimists-not-climate-deniers-heartland-institute-conference

    (end quote)

    So look for that flavor of “denial” in the coming months–marching orders are filtering down to the troops.

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/22/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Rocks

    How long will it be before the deniers wade in on the latest report? They’ll claim they’ve found a pebble on the beach and, as everyone knows, beaches are made out of sand. Therefor there are no beaches at all.

    When that claim is refuted yet again, then they’ll fall back on the claim that the climate is indeed changing, but it’s always been changing.

    Next fallback will be that man has no impact on the climate.

    When all else fails as it will inevitably do under the overwhelming evidence, they’ll try to tell us the change is beneficial. All the negative consequences be damned.

    In the meantime the bill for fixing the problem just gets more expensive the longer we delay.

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/22/2014 - 04:17 pm.

      Worse than that

      “In the meantime the bill for fixing the problem just gets more expensive”

      There is no fixing the problem, short of monumental geo-engineering projects that are themselves fraught with uncertainty and danger. All that remains is mitigation, and that task becomes more difficult and expensive, and its potential effects more limited, by the day. Stop all emissions today, and the warming will still continue for some time.

      I marvel that the party of “family values” cares so little for the next and future generations that they will allow the biosphere to cook rather than take action while it is still possible to head off the worst case scenarios. Human psychology is capable of astounding contortions in support of cherished fantasies. A recent article reported on the collapse of oyster farms along the Northwest coast, due to ocean acidification resulting from absorption of carbon by the sea – and what was in the comments section? Denial that it could have anything to do with carbon emissions. I truly believe that the denialists will continue to deny, until the average temperature is 125 degrees, agriculture has collapsed, the multitudes starve and the seas are dead – and then they’ll blame it all on liberals.

      Meanwhile, Obama has authorized oil exploration along the East Coast, utilizing sonic cannons that will deafen and kill sensitive sea life, including cetaceans, sea turtles, etc. Drill, baby, drill. Palin should be happy I guess. On some issues, there truly is no difference between repubs and dems, more’s the pity.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/22/2014 - 06:22 pm.

        Good point, Lance..

        The right will wail about leaving debt to their children, but a poisoned, unlivable planet?? Meh…

  3. Submitted by Tom Karas on 07/22/2014 - 03:06 pm.

    Yes, the deniers will be quick to jump, what about MinnPost?

    At some point in the ‘cigarettes cause cancer’ discussion, members of the media had to make a decision at what point they would stop printing letters, comments, and opinion pieces that challenged the ‘cigarettes cause cancer’ FACT. It eventually became a smart decision from a public health and social approval standpoint. Granted, it took many years, and a Surgeon General’s report, for the Marlboro Man ads to leave magazines and TV.
    In the age of the fabulous interweb and its boatload or information about science, you would think the climate deniers would mozy down the same trail as the Marlboro Man, just at a faster pace as their platform for spouting off should get smaller and smaller. Progressive media all around the country are making policy stands against allowing climate change deniers to grace their pages. Just wondering if MinnPost will jump on this wagon train?

    • Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2014 - 04:44 am.

      Censorship

      The idea that opposing views should be censored or suppressed is the beginning of a very slippery slope.

      • Submitted by Tom Karas on 07/23/2014 - 03:49 pm.

        Dude-

        You are entitled to your own opinion. But not your own scientific factual conclusions. But your constant efforts to dredge up a debate because you think you deserve a debate are just sad. And the fact that apparently the university gives you a platform to spew your own form of science is even sadder.
        But just for fun, and I am having fun at your expense, accept my apologies. Folks, if you take a glass of water and put it in the freezer and then remove it the moment it skims over with ice, you have 100% ice coverage. If you take the same glass and fill it chock full of cubes and a little water you will have cubes floating in the water. You don’t have 100% ice coverage, but you have a hell of a lot more ice. Mr Westgard wants you to believe all that skim ice means there is a lot of ice. Thats how the deniers play the game and they get a constant flow of talking points from the boss every other month or so.

      • Submitted by Chris Farmer-Lies on 07/25/2014 - 11:43 am.

        The reason is actually a lot more benign than a non-government organization refusing to provide a platform to marginal lunatics. Newspapers get crackpot letters all the time, from people who believe that reptilians run the government or that they’ve been abducted by aliens or that Bill and Hillary Clinton have murdered dozens of people. It’s a waste of ink to print this type of nonsense. I learned recently that the LA Times won’t run these stories on their Op/Ed pages, here is a link to the article:

        http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-climate-change-letters-20131008-story.html

        Some highlights:

        “…when deciding which letters should run among hundreds on such weighty matters as climate change, I must rely on the experts — in other words, those scientists with advanced degrees who undertake tedious research and rigorous peer review.”

        “Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published. Saying “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change” is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2014 - 05:46 am.

    The sceptic(denier) appears with facts

    A check with NSIDC shows that Arctic ice cover is currently 4.36 million square miles, about the size of the US and India combined.That’s about average for the past five years, pausing a long decline. To tour the north pole you will need a dog sled, or hitch a ride on on of our nuclear subs which routinely pass below, powered solely by those reliable nuclear engines.
    Ice in Antarctica with 90% of the world’s ice is at record levels. And the world atmosphere temperature over land and sea hasn’t risen in 15 years.
    As to the frequency of extreme-weather events, we have a recent TV interview by Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, one of world’s largest casualty insurers. Buffett noted on CNBC, “While the question of climate change deserves lots of attention, it has no effect on the prices we’re charging this year versus five years ago. And I don’t think it’ll have an effect on what we’re charging three years or five years from now. Hurricanes in recent years have been all profit. Future catastrophe forecasts appear to be no different than in the past.”
    This comment will bring out the pejorative term ‘denier’, suggesting that I think smoking is good for you and that the moon landing was staged on a Hollywood cinema lot.
    If the truth about climate hurts, you have my sympathy.

    • Submitted by Tom Karas on 07/23/2014 - 04:08 am.

      thank you pardner

      Now lets all giddy up and forget about NOAA and NASA and all the rest, the just follow the man who has the facts that suits us.
      As master commentator Mr. Rolf widely distributed this opinion piece a few weeks ago –
      http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/content/readers-view-temperatures-have-varied-naturally-millions-years
      I have to believe that Minn Post was included in the distribution. Not seeing it here may give sign to a quiet effort by the editorial board to slow down the spread of sad science.
      The opinion piece before it that appeared in the Duluth News Tribune was quickly slapped down by a UofMN professor. Mr. Rolf is certainly adamant and determined, but he still can’t change the real facts. He plays better in Duluth though apparently.

      • Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/23/2014 - 07:16 am.

        Just the facts please

        Please respond to the specific points in my post.
        If you think I have sad science, prove it.
        Or you could take my new fall quarter class:
        #17041  CO2 is not C: Coal Burning and the New EPA rules
        Carbon becomes the invisible non-toxic gas CO2 when it unites with oxygen. This course will study the total environmental impact of coal burning and CO2 and what to expect from the new EPA restrictions. We will review global warming history and explore the science of the part played by greenhouse gases and by natural forces. Guest speakers and a plant tour will add to our knowledge. In the end we will compare our view of the climate future with that of groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Seats: 30
        Teacher: Rolf Westgard, professional member, Geological Society of America and the American Nuclear Society
        Mondays, Sep. 15–Nov. 3, 10:00–11:30 a.m., The Legacy of St. Anthony, 2540 Kenzie Terrace, St. Anthony
        612-624-7847
        http://www.cce.umn.edu/Osher-Lifelong-Learning-Institute/

    • Submitted by Ben Munroe on 08/29/2014 - 12:10 pm.

      All ice is not equal

      Please note that Antarctic LAND ice is decreasing, now at record rates as measured by satellites. This is not the same as “ice extent” which includes SEA ice, to which you refer. As we all know, the melting (or freezing) of sea ice does not affect sea levels, but melting of land ice does. One theory is that melting land ice is re-freezing as sea ice, which leads to greater ice extent, and higher sea levels.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/23/2014 - 07:55 am.

    It’s like an Alzheimer ward.

    The same comments are made by deniers, over and over.

    Arctic ice?

    http://psc.apl.washington.edu/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/schweiger/ice_volume/BPIOMASIceVolumeAprSepCurrent.png

    The downward trend of Arctic ice is clearly shown.

    It’s like the weather, cool days do not disprove the fact of a warming trend. Likewise, the amount by which ice decreases is not uniform from year to year, some years it drops faster than others.–BUT THE TREND DOWNWARD CONTINUES.

    And Mr. Westergard can always be relied upon to bring up his “science guru”, Warren Buffet. Mr. Buffet has made money due to quiet hurricane years in the US. On the other hand, check what the cost of storm losses, flood losses, drought losses, hailstorm losses, typhoon losses, etc. have done in the past few years, throughout the world. Not such a rosy picture. But hey, a two year old comment from Mr. Buffet negates all other evidence.

    And like the Alzheimer ward, the same comments will be brought forward, day after day.

  6. Submitted by Ken Jopp on 07/23/2014 - 09:43 am.

    Manufacturing Climate Change

    http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org/

    It’s ironic, even comical (tho a black comedy), that people will debate interpretations of data when, if you ask them to be empiricists and watch the sky and note what they see, they will look at you and wonder what they possibly could observe with their own eyes that would have any relevance to the debate about climate change. Go figure.

    The debate is crafted and controlled to preclude the prospect of deliberate geoengineering from entering the fray. It’s the new inconvenient truth.

  7. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/23/2014 - 12:41 pm.

    Flying Ideas

    Wait…You aren’t seriously trying to interject the chem trail lunacy into the global warming debate, are you? Isn’t it bad enough that we have the anti-science deniers in the mix?

    I went to the web site above and it’s just a mashed up mixture of buzz word bingo. “Nucleated snow”, “nano aerosols”, and so on. Does anyone outside of the tin foil hat crowd really believe this stuff? If there really is a concerted campaign to change the climate via the vapor trails of aircraft, then you’re going to have to do better than a couple of videos showing planes flying at altitude.

    -Who is manufacturing the “nano aerosols”? Does this product even exist?
    -What is the science behind this product? How does it interact with the atmosphere?
    -How is the product being applied? If it’s simply kicked out the back of the plane, where are the holding tanks for the product?
    -If it’s mixed with jet fuel, who’s doing the mixing?
    -What effect does this product have on jet engines and fuel economy for the aircraft?
    -Where are the contracts compensating the airlines for the increased wear & tear on the engines and reduced mileage?
    -Who’s paying those contracts?

    There more holes in the chemtrail conspiracy than the Titanic. Seriously, there are better things you can spend your intellectual energy on than this piece of rubbish.

  8. Submitted by Bradley Bolin on 07/24/2014 - 11:15 am.

    Funny Flying Stuff

    Hey, Ken: http://infactvideo.com/episode/03/08/

  9. Submitted by Ken Jopp on 07/24/2014 - 01:02 pm.

    Owning the Weather

    Hey, Bradley, et al.
    http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/volume3/vol3ch15.pdf

  10. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/24/2014 - 11:07 pm.

    Chemtrails

    I feel dumber for even having heard of the chemtrail conspiracy. This idea has no basis in reality and belongs in the science fiction realm, with a heavy emphasis on the fiction and light on the science.

    Come back and talk to me when you have one of the contracts I listed above. Until then it’s all fantasy.

  11. Submitted by Tom Karas on 07/26/2014 - 02:43 pm.

    Climate denial crock of the week – the series

    Peter Sinclair’s Mom grew up on the Iron Range, Peter started the Youtube series Climate Denial Crock of the Week a number of years ago. So over that time he has scrounged up just about every climate denial, and then the ones that were forwarded to him to research. In 3-6 minute videos laced with humor and maybe a tad bit of sarcasm, Peter peels back all the layers of all the goofy claims that appear so often, over and over.
    Especially for Mr. Westgard here is 7 minutes on sea ice
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wbzK4v7GsM&list=PL029130BFDC78FA33&index=48

    The MInnPost comments can get real painful, let Peter’s videos bring a lightness and humor in beating down the climate denial folks.

  12. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/30/2014 - 05:49 am.

    IPCC/alarmist farce; the Great Pause continues

    All three major agencies which track global temps have reported for June, and the 17 year 4 month pause continues. The agencies are NOAA/NCDC; NASA/GISS’ and Hadley CRUT. Al show the same lack of warming despite those annual 30 billion tons of CO2 that we emit. Of course the atmosphere weighs in the quadrillion tons, so CO2 remains a miniscule one part in 2500 in the atmosphere. Don’t sell your winter coat.
    Alarmists can suppress sceptics, but the numbers are tougher to deal with.

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