2016’s position as the hottest year on record has been widely reported, but many other important, albeit terrifying, climate change milestones were achieved last year according to the State of the Climate Report published in the American Meteorological Society Bulletin.
The report, which is spearheaded by top editors from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, has been described as a comprehensive annual physical for the planet. This year’s check up brought some bad news.
To begin, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record high. The increase from 2015 to 2016 of 3.5 ± 0.1 parts per million was the largest jump in one year on modern record.
Drought was also widespread in 2016. During every month of the year, at least twelve percent of the global area was experiencing drought conditions. More than half of the land south of equator experienced drought conditions during some part of 2016.
2016 was the sixth year in a row when global sea levels were higher than the year before. In fact, global sea levels were 3.5 inches higher last year than they were in 1993. This sea level rise is attributed to alpine glacial melt; 2016 marked the 37th year in a row during which alpine glaciers retreated worldwide.
March 2017 was the first time ever that a monthly average temperature was more than 1°C above average in the absence of an El Niño event. During El Niño episodes the ocean-atmosphere system in the Tropical Pacific moves in different ways that result in warmer than usual temperatures worldwide. Record warmth in the absence of El Niño suggests that human-induced climate change is to blame.
NOAA’s March 2017 report revealed that warmer and much-warmer-than-average temperatures were measured for much of Earth’s land and oceanic surfaces. The U.S. mainland, Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia saw the hottest month, where departures from average temperatures were +3.0°C (+5.4°F) or more. Some regions such as western Canada and Alaska did experience a colder than usual year but no cool weather records were set.
According to a continental analysis by NOAA, four of the six continents experienced a top seven warm March since records began in 1910. Europe and Oceania had their second hottest March on record, despite the absence of an El Niño even this year.
The first three months of 2017, January through March, have already proven to be the second warmest on record. Only 2016 had higher average temperatures, but that was an El Niño year. Even more notably, the first three months of 2017 have been significantly warmer than January through March of 2015, which was also an El Niño year.
Zeke Hausfather is a climate scientist at University of California, Berkeley and commented on the report in an interview with the Associated Press. He said, “If El Niño were the main driver of record warmth, there is no way the last three months would have been as warm as they have been.”
The first of its kind, a recent study found that climate change is likely to decrease the number of “nice weather” days worldwide.
The authors of the study, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and Princeton University, define “nice” or “mild” days as those days when temperatures are between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, dew points are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit and less than half of an inch of rain falls. Currently there are an average of 74 nice days globally per year, but that number is likely to drop to 70 in the next twenty years and to 64 by 2081.
Karin van der Wiel is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and lead author of the study. She said,
“We used a climate model to simulate the current climate. In that simulation we counted the number of mild days. Then, we increased greenhouse gases in the climate model to simulate the future effects of climate change. This leads to increasing temperatures, changes in humidity, changes in precipitation over the whole world and with very specific patterns. In this new, future climate, we counted the number of mild days again. We could then calculate the change — increase or decrease — of mild weather days for each location globally.”
Not all corners of the Earth will be affected equally, however. Tropical regions are expected to lose the most nice days, with some areas losing up to 50 per year by the end of this century. Meanwhile, London is expected to gain 24 nice days each year.
Predictions for Cedar Rapids, Iowa mirror global averages. Eastern Iowa currently enjoys 76 nice days annually; researchers say that number is expected to drop to an average of 72 between 2016 and 2035 and to 66 each year between 2081 through 2100.
Frequent high humidity makes it tough for Iowa to meet the pleasant weather criteria outlined in the study. Absolute humidity has risen by 13 percent during the summer months in Des Moines since 1970, according to Iowa State climate scientist Gene Takle. Increased humidity also contributes to the extreme rain events that have plagued Iowa in recent years.
van der Wiel said, “Mild weather is something everyone knows, experiences, and has memories of,” she continued, “Our study shows that human-caused climate change is going to lead to changes in mild weather all over… The changes are happening now, and where people live.”
Yet another record was set on Wednesday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released its annual Climate Report.
The report announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. Deke Arndt is the chief of the monitoring group at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C.
Arndt said, “[Last year] was the warmest year on record, beating 2015 by a few hundredths of a degree, and together those two years really blow away the rest of our record.” He continued, “And that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number.”
Rising temperatures were not limited to certain regions. Experts said that some part of every major ocean and every major continent experienced record heat. The Arctic, however, saw some of the most extreme warming. During Fall of 2016, temperatures were a full 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average across large parts of the Arctic ocean.
Arndt said, “The long-term warming is driven almost entirely by greenhouse gases. We’ve seen a warming trend related to greenhouse gases for four, five, six decades now.”
The Climate Report, along with a separate analysis by NASA which duplicated its results, were released on the same day that confirmation hearings began for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who staunchly supports the fossil fuel industry, is identified as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” in his official biography.
The complete report and a summary of its findings can be found here.
New climate model projections of the world’s coral reefs reveal which reefs will be hit by annual coral bleaching first.
These projections, based on global climate models, predict when and where annual coral bleaching will occur. The projections show that reefs in Taiwan and around the Turks and Caicos archipelago will be among the world’s first reefs to experience annual bleaching. Other reefs, like those off the coast of Bahrain, in Chile and in French Polynesia, will be hit decades later, according to research recently published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, said about the study:
“These predictions are a treasure trove for those who are fighting to protect one of the world’s most magnificent and important ecosystems from the ravages of climate change. They allow conservationists and governments to prioritize the protection of reefs that may still have time to acclimatize to our warming seas. The projections show us where we still have time to act before it’s too late.”
The dangerous effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef have long worried scientists. In April of last year, a team of researchers reported that coral bleaching of the reef in 2016 was the worst that had ever been observed.
If current trends continue, according to the study, 99 percent of all reefs on Earth will experience severe bleaching every year within the next 100 years.
The new study shows that, on average, the world’s reefs will start suffering annual bleaching in 2043. About 5 percent of them will be hit a decade or earlier, while about 11 percent will suffer annual bleaching a decade or later than this date.
If emission reductions meet pledges made by countries under the Paris Agreement, coral reefs would have another 11 years, on average, to adapt to warming seas before they are hit by annual bleaching. If such emissions reductions become reality, many high and low latitude reefs in Australia, the south Pacific, India, Coral Triangle and the Florida Reef Tract will have at least 25 more years before annual bleaching occurs, buying time for conservation efforts. However, reefs near the equator will experience annual bleaching much sooner, even if emissions reductions pledges become reality.
Predicting when and where annual bleaching occurs will help policymakers and conservationists decide which reefs to prioritize. Study leader Dr. Ruben van Hooidonk of NOAA and the University of Miami said:
“Reefs that will suffer annual bleaching later – known as climate “refugia” – are top priorities because they have more time to respond positively to efforts that seek to reduce bleaching vulnerability.”
Some of these efforts include reducing land-based pollution, halting overfishing, and preventing damage from tourism.
Coral reefs, which are already under threat from overfishing and tourism, are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are easily affected by warm water. When sea temperatures rise, the algae that give coral its bright colors leave their host.. The loss of algae, which provide coral with much of its energy, make corals vulnerable to starvation and disease.
Known as the world’s underwater cities, coral reefs provide hundreds of millions of people with food, income and coastal protection. They are home to at least one-quarter of all marine life and they generate an estimated $375 billion per year from fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection.
Scientists say that the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever recorded, and temperatures in the region are rising at “astonishing” rates. Jeremy Mathis is director of NOAA’s Arctic research program, he said, “Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year.”
Scientists explained that warming which used to only have an effect in the summer months is now affecting the Arctic year-round. Mathis added, “The Arctic as a whole is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the planet.”
The report said that the warming of the Arctic can be explained by long-term increases in carbon dioxide emissions and air temperatures as well as natural seasonal and regional variability. These effects are compounded by the feedback loops in the Arctic climate system. Before human-induced climate change, the Arctic region remained cool because large areas of ice and snow reflected much of the sun’s rays back into space. Now that large areas of the ice and snow are melting away, the sun’s rays absorb into the dark land masses and ocean water, causing temperatures to rise more quickly.
Mathis said, “What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”
He explained that warm temperatures in the Arctic could be influencing jet stream patterns in the Northern hemisphere, potentially causing extreme weather in the United States.
Rafe Pomerance, a member of the Polar Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences, was not involved with the report card. He said,“The 2016 Arctic Report Card further documents the unraveling of the Arctic and the crumbling of the pillars of the global climate system that the Arctic maintains.”
A recent study in the journal Science reveals that tornado outbreaks are growing in size, and scientists are unsure why.
The study was published just days after 18 tornadoes devastated parts of the Southeast United States Tuesday night into Wednesday morning. The study’s lead author, Michael Tippett of Columbia University, said that 50 years ago tornado clusters, may have involved about 12 tornados, now they average roughly 20. The researchers studied the most extreme outbreaks, which happen about once every five years, and discovered a steady increase in tornado cluster size since the mid-1960’s.
Before the outbreak on Tuesday, 2016 had seen a record low number of tornadoes. In an interview with the Associated Press, Tippett said,“Something’s up. The tornadoes that do occur are occurring in clusters. It’s not any increase in the (total) number of tornadoes.” In contrast with upticks in other kinds of extreme weather, researchers are not seeing a connection between human-induced climate change and larger tornado clusters. Tippett said, “It’s not what we expected. Either it’s not climate change because not everything is, or it is some aspect of climate change we don’t understand yet.”
Other scientists question the validity of Tippett’s study, claiming that increased reporting and the prevalence of urban sprawl may be responsible for the perceived growth of tornado outbreaks. One critic is Howard Bluestein, a meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma. He said, “It’s a useful exercise, but I would be very, very careful in accepting it.”
Seven people were killed by this week’s tornado cluster, several more were injured.