(Last updated 8-17-15)
Earth’s atmosphere has radically changed: levels of long term greenhouse gases that absorb and re-radiate thermal radiation – and keep earth from being a lifeless nearly frozen ball of rock – are now, suddenly, higher than they’ve likely been in several million years.
Earth is also getting warmer, slowly but surely. Oceans are gaining heat; permafrost is starting to melt; glaciers are melting; and the huge land ice caps at both poles of the earth are not only starting to melt, but are now both accelerating in their rate of melt, as increasing accumulating energy is starting to effect earth’s key systems, including the ones that help shape and drive future climate.
For various reasons, temperatures vary greatly from year to year, and decade to decade. And, as hydroclimatology scientist and MacArthur Fellow Peter Gleick noted long ago:
Anyone who understands the statistics of long time-series with internal natural variability also understands that we can see periods of time as long as 10 or 15 years with modest warming, followed by periods with higher-than-average warming – a dynamic confirmed by both models and by actual observations.
Yet the powerful longer term trend upward in temperatures continues unabated:
That’s some “pause” in air temperatures, isn’t it? It’s also a pause which, even if ambient surface air temperatures had suddenly stopped rising for a while, wouldn’t remotely indicate one iota what climate change really is anyway: The issue is net energy accumulation, and the air represents a minute fraction of the total energy held by the ocean and ice. So if even a little more energy goes into the ocean for a time than is already going, air temps could go down or “increase less,” while overall warming, or energy accumulation, continued or even increased its net pace.
Here’s some more information, putting the claimed “pause” in even more perspective, and updating the long term temperature trend with the latest global results:
Each of the last several decades on earth has been successively warmer than the last. Globally, the 14 warmest years ever recorded have all been since 1998, with almost all coming since the year 2000.
2014 was the warmest year on record – surpassing 2010, which had set the record just a few years before. And 2015 is now well above pace to beat 2014. (Note that highly influential climate “denial” sites such as Climate Depot – prominently featured in the film Merchants of Doubt – scoff at the seeming small year to year temperature deviation, seemingly oblivious to the facts that differences between the hottest year ever recorded and second hottest year ever recorded should be small; even a few degrees total change over time would reshape earth; or that choosing a year that was “below” the record simply because the new record only beat the old one (statistically, at least) by a small amount, would be nonsensical.)
Jan through April of 2015 also registered as the warmest first four months of a year ever recorded. It was followed by a May that was not only the warmest May ever recorded, it was the fourth largest departure from average of any month. Additionally, the two largest departures from average of any month ever recorded, going back to when recording began in the 1800s, were also both this year as well – February and March, 2015.
In other words, 3 of the 4 hottest months above the mean ever recorded, regardless of which month of the year, have all been in the first half of 2015.
A freakishly hot May, following a freakishly hot winter, was followed by the warmest June ever on record. (Based on NOAA and JMA data, while NASA had June tied with June 2009 for the warmest ever.) June:
That helped make January through June the warmest first half year ever recorded. And that’s been followed by the hottest July on record, making it even more probable 2015 will be the warmest on record, likely even shattering last year’s record for warmest year ever recorded, by a statistically significant amount.
Putting the start of 2015, and the longer term trend in even a little more perspective, For the period of just January through April average global land temperature was already 2.66 degrees F above the last century average: Not above where global land temperatures were at the start of the 1900s, substantially below the 20th century average; but 2.66 degrees F above the average for the entire 20th century. And this is before the record setting continuation into May, June and July is factored in.
But far more important than current air temperatures, the world ocean has been gaining heat for decades, and has been doing so at a rate likely several times faster than anytime in the past 10,000 years, and one that’s accelerating.
That’s not just surface energy, but energy extending down dozens, hundreds, and very often thousand, of meters, and that is continuing to accumulate. And starting to have increasing effects, including the incipience of frozen sea floor thawing, with wild consequences, and the emergence and acceleration of net polar ice sheet melting from warming ocean waters.
But even more relevant here is that at the same time our world ocean continues to gain heat energy – and gain it at a geologically remarkable rate, there’s still enough energy left over to sustain unusually high ambient air temperatures. And even sustain an upward march in those temperatures.
Yet there has been widespread mistaken use, even sometimes in otherwise even decent climate change articles, of the word “pause” for Global Warming:
The term is casually flung about as if Global Warming doesn’t only refer secondarily to actual global air temperature increase, and primarily to the phenomenon of our massive atmospheric change’s impact upon earth’s key systems and its long term climate. Right now that means total globe heat energy retention, not just air.
The term is casually flung about as if inherent volatility in climate has ended – as opposed to if anything, likely greatly increased – from our sudden and geologically major change to the long term energy “trapping” property of our atmosphere. And – illogically – as if therefore each decade should see the same amount of constant global air temperature increase as the last; let alone see such non variant linearity when climate itself is also a pattern of weather over about 30 years or more, and climate change is non linear, and volatile.
The term is casually flung about as if air temperatures are the main issue. Since most of the energy is going into the oceans – and even into melting ice caps and subsurface permafrost – right now air temperatures aren’t the main issue.
And the term is flung about when climate change’s end result will likely be about air temperature, among other things; but right now it’s not. It’s about earth’s shifting energy balance.
This balance is not just considerably changing, but is starting to show increasing physical signs of such change; including most notably, along with multiple other signs. to other key drivers of longer term climate – the same aforementioned oceans and (previously stable) North and South ice sheets.
Yet here’s what’s even more remarkable about this whole “pause” fiction, among the many fictions of climate change “skepticism” over these same last few decades: as our world ocean has not just gained in heat, but gained in heat at an accelerating rate, air temperatures have still relevantly appreciated.
Thus even the pause in air temperatures alone – which themselves barely begin to tell the story of the shifting earth energy balance which is “climate change” – is a fallacy:
That is, some of that ocean heat, at the very surface of the ocean anyway, is re radiated back to the air as thermal radiation, and so on. But the bottom line is that the more net energy retained in the vertical ocean column extending down hundreds and sometimes thousands of meters, the more additional energy is being drawn out of the atmosphere. That is, cooling the atmosphere relative to what it would have been, had that energy not been drawn out and accumulating in the world ocean.
Yet ocean thermal energy accumulation is occurring – and at a geologically massive rate of speed – even while ambient global surface atmospheric air temperature continues to remain well above trailing medium averages and is still increasing, putting even the short term (and thus all but irrelevant anyway) idea of a “pause” in air temperatures alone into a clearer context of malarkey.
That ocean heating also doesn’t mean the energy “hides” but, given the way earth’s long term climate system works, ultimately far from it; as methane is starting to erupt from warming ocean columns and the overlapping edges of land based polar ice sheets are melting from warmer waters, with at least one key gateway ice shelf now collapsing, and more suddenly starting to destabilize.
The issue – and it likely can’t be emphasized enough – is the warming of the globe itself, the physical systems on it that retain heat longer and that are harder to heat, and the globe’s increasing energy balance. Air temperatures for right now constitute one component of this. And while current and trailing air temperature is of course one of the major indicia of change, and itself plays an important role in affecting some of the other components of longer term climate, it is by far the least important in terms of driving future climate.
On the other hand, the long term chemical change we’ve made to the atmosphere and are continuing to make at breakneck geological speed – which is why air temperatures are also warming along with these other far more significant changes – is itself, after the sun, and along with the oceans it is helping to reshape, a key driver of future climate as well.
That atmospheric change represents a major external alteration of the most fundamental factor – after the existence of the sun itself – in determining earth’s ultimate level of energy retention. And this energy retention ultimately turns into climate – although it wouldn’t make much this sense for the great bulk of the change to necessarily be immediate, since with huge ice sheets and vast oceans capable of amassing great amounts of energy the earth is somewhat stable short term during any “random” geological period.
Stable does’t mean the earth can’t change, doesn’t change, or hasn’t easily and quickly in the past. (Remember however that the past goes back billions of years. The chances of finding any remarkable period of change over any random prior separate 100 year period is extremely low. Just going back 200 million years provides for 2 million such individual periods, for instance.)
It means the enormous extra, ongoing (and, fantastically, still increasing) blast of energy into the earth, is extremely unlikely to immediately shift the climate to its new “stases” or balanced energy state (in fact it’s probably impossible), but start to effect the things that ultimately will:
And, as if on cue, net glacial ice sheet melt is also now occurring at both poles: While at least one set of ice sheets in the more stable and larger Antarctic (worth about 10 feet plus of sea level rise on its own), is now facing likely irreversible melt.
While Greenland’s ice sheet melt loss grows:
Greenland now even has narrow rivers racing through it: a major change which with the action of both water (which greatly facilitates melt) and fast moving water against sheet walls will continue to accelerate melt rates. (And is now even showing signs of “stretch” marks as melting at the edges accelerates the pace of sheet movement oceanward.)
Not only is net glacial ice sheet melt (and net loss) now occurring in both the north and south polar regions, it is now also accelerating in both polar regions. In the south, at the West Antarctic ice sheet, the rate of melt has increased three fold, in under less than just this century alone.
This, while East Antarctica, previously thought (by many, anyway), as unaffect-able in so short a time span, is now starting to melt as well from, what else; warming ocean water. And evidence is mounting that East Antarctic, earlier this very 21st century thought to not even be suffering from melt loss, is not only melting, but probably accelerating as well.
As briefly noted above, gateway ice shelves that block the flow of ice to the sea – where it otherwise breaks off into glaciers and ultimately melts, are starting to collapse. One, the Larsen B shelf, stable for over 10,000 years, started collapsing earlier this young century, and now with further accelerating changes its complete collapse is apparently imminent.
Meanwhile, in the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, change, which in the land of large polar ice sheets is, generally, speaking “glacial,” has rapidly accelerated in yet another fashion, with a set of key gateway shelves that were stable in the early 2000s, suddenly destabilizing in the last 5 years.
And perhaps most importantly of all, warming sea columns, and even now slowly starting to defrost land permafrost areas, are starting to release long stored methane gas deposits; leading to large and increasing changes in the arctic region which tell much of the broader story of global change; and which, because it’s not “hard temperature data in our backyard, today” and hard to really believe in a sea of misinformation on the climate change issue, seems to be disproportionately overlooked. Yet which has led to massive recent arctic methane spiking as solid clathrates long frozen on sea bed floors are starting to thaw and erupt with – along with attendant changes in the broader arctic region – major potential ramifications for our broader world.
In the continental U.S., which represents about one – fiftieth of the surface of the globe, change hasn’t been as pronounced as elsewhere globally; and overall, warming has been less. (Ironically but not surprisingly climate change “skeptics” use this to argue global climate isn’t changing. Which is like arguing that something that is unambiguously changing, isn’t changing or is somehow changing “less,” by focusing in on only one tiny sliver of it, as if that sliver represents the whole.)
But in the last few years California -which had a stunningly hot winter these past few months while the eastern part of the U.S. in the early to mid portion of the winter was cold – has in terms of desiccation (lack of rainfall plus evaporation from heat) seen its worst drought in likely 1200 years: And while Texas, U.S.A., has also been suffering from extreme drought conditions – suddenly relieved by incredibly intense downpours the past few weeks, leading to its second worst flooding in its history.
And while in Alaska, outside the continental U.S. and part of the outer arctic region where change has been much more massive (and, long term, important), parts of the state are baking into the 90s. In May.
Hitting 90 in May for the Mid or Southern part of the U.S. isn’t all that out of whack. For the outer polar regions of the north, a full month before summer even arrives, with its high a whopping 30 degrees above the average May high for the region, and 18 degrees above the average high for the region in July, it is.
And so it goes, on around the rest of the world, while if the weather stays “okay” or even “cold” in Washington D.C. or part of the U.S. (for example while the eastern portion of the country had a very cold mid winter as the western part had its warmest winter period ever, by a comfortable margin), politicians, driven by belief reinforced by a near fervor of misinformation on and constant basic misconstruction of the issue, stay somewhat “myopic”and, representative of us voters themselves, very relevantly uninformed when it comes to the relevant facts of the issue.
But these factors mentioned above, along with several others, are merely the signs of change. They are the signs of just what was generally expected.
(Though skeptics, non climate scientists with apparent supreme knowledge of just how climate would otherwise miraculously be behaving coincident to our sudden multi million year insulation layer increase, and through a remarkable cherry picking of random early history, an even more remarkable misconstruction of the basic issue, and a wild series of relevant omissions, argue that all this, geologically out of whack as it is and happening so fast as it geologically is and right on the heels of what we would specifically expect to be causing it, is nevertheless just some sort of wildly bizarre coincidence of rapid change, while our sudden multi million year shift in earth’s insulation is, simultaneously, and far more miraculously, itself somehow largely meaningless; as “God” or something otherwise micromanages climate for us, and so offsets the recapture of all that extra energy that a sudden, several million year upward shift in long term green house gases means; by simply, well, evaporating it or something.)
These factors above – or corroborating signs of an expected general if largely chaotic, non linear, large and imprecise long term risk range effect – do not constitute “climate change” in the sense of what the problem (and challenge) represents.
They do not constitute the reason, or even any real part of the reason, why the leading scientists who have been professionally studying this issue for a long time, have long warned about it. (Though as earth is in an inter-glacial period in a 2 plus million year or so long Ice Age, and over 40 years ago in the 1970s there was a little bit of reasonable, if a 100-200 year lagging, concern over more “Ice Age” periods by a substantial minority of scientists even at that time, it has of course been turned by skeptics into completely false evidence that “climate change” is merely the abstract flavor of the moment.)
They are simply signs of those reasons. Those reasons are basic physics and earth geology, and the geologically major change which has been suddenly, if inadvertently but still ongoing, occasioned to the long term heat trapping capacity of earth’s only insulation; representing now, a change on the order of several million years and growing, in a near geologic instant.