“…humans, mainly by burning fossil fuels, are cooking the planet” — Jonathan Overpeck

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it's melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.
Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it’s melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From USA Today (Doyle Rice) via the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

The planet sizzled to its third straight record warm year in 2016, and human activity is to blame, federal scientists announced Wednesday.

The last time the world was definitely warmer than today? Some 125,000 years ago based on paleoclimatic data from tree rings, ice cores, sediments and other ways of examining Earth’s history, said NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said.

The average temperature across the Earth’s land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 58.69 degrees, a whopping 1.69 degrees above average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was largest margin by which an annual global temperature record has ever been broken, NOAA said.

Although less than 2 degrees above average may sound small, it’s quite a large number in climate science, where records are often broken by tenths or even hundredths of degrees.

A separate analysis of data from NASA concurred with NOAA’s findings. Most of the warming has happened in the past 35 years, and 16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred since 2001, NASA said.

Record high temperatures were set in 2016 on nearly every continent. No land areas were cooler than average for the year. Eight straight months (January through August) were also each the warmest since records began 15 years after the Civil War ended.

From The Washington Post (Chris Mooney):

In a powerful testament to the warming of the planet, two leading U.S. science agencies Wednesday jointly declared 2016 the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record set just last year — which, itself, had topped a record set in 2014…

NASA concurred with NOAA, also declaring 2016 the warmest year on record in its own dataset that tracks the temperatures at the surface of the planet’s land and oceans, and expressing “greater than 95 percent certainty” in that conclusion. (In contrast, NOAA gave a 62 percent confidence in the broken record.)

NASA actually found a bigger leap upward of temperatures in 2016, measuring the year as .22 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the prior record year of 2015…

Last year “is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a statement. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

[…]

Scientists have been far less guarded. “2016 is a wake-up call in many ways,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona, of the year’s temperatures. “Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is serious.”

NASA and NOAA produce slightly different records using somewhat different methodologies, but have now concurred on identifying 2014, 2015, and 2016 as, successively, the three warmest years in their records. There was a noticeable difference this year in how much the two agencies judged that 2016 had surpassed 2015, with NASA more bullish — a difference that Schmidt attributed to different ways of measuring the super-warm Arctic on a press call Wednesday.

“The warming in the Arctic has really been exceptional, and what you decide to do when you’re interpolating across the Arctic, makes a difference,” Schmidt said.

But the differences between NOAA and NASA aren’t that significant, Schmidt further argued, in the context bigger picture. “Getting hung up on the exact nature of the records is interesting, and there’s lots of technical work that can be done there, but the main take home response there is that the trends we’ve been seeing since the 1970s are continuing and have not paused in any way,” he said.

Here’s a NASA figure showing that long term trend, now updated through 2016:

nasaglobaltemperature1880thru2016

Last year’s warmth was partly enhanced by a strong weather pattern known as El Niño, but the scientists underscore that this is not the only cause. For example, 1998 was also, at the time, the warmest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño — but the 2016 planetary temperature now far surpasses that year. The reason is that the Earth has been warming since then, allowing another El Niño event, unlocking heat from the vast Pacific Ocean, to push overall temperatures to new heights.

Two other global agencies, the Japan Meteorological Agency and the U.K.’s Hadley Center, also track global temperatures. On Wednesday, the Hadley Center also announced that 2016 was the warmest year, albeit only “nominally” because it was very close to 2015 in the agency’s dataset. The center reported that while 2016 was .77 degrees Celsius above the temperature average between 1961 and 1990, 2015 was .76 degrees Celsius warmer.

“While the 2016 datapoint is stunning, please remember that these observed temperature departures … contain natural variability as well as the signal of human-caused Global Warming,” noted Michael Schlesinger, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois, of the Hadley Center data, which date back to 1850. Natural variability would include El Niño.

The difference between the Hadley Center and NASA once again comes down to the treatment of the Arctic, Schmidt explained.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the Arctic is warming around 2 to 3 times as fast as the global mean,” he said. “So that will be the cause of continuing divergences between the groups, and it ‘s something I think we all need to be thinking about.”

NASA further noted in its analysis that compared with the late 19th century, the planet has now warmed about 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s very significant because the global community has been striving to limit overall warming to considerably below a 2 degree Celsius rise, and even, if possible, to hold it to a 1.5 degree Celsius increase. That is now only about .4 degrees away, based on these figures.

“It is the second year in a row that the annual global temperature has been more than 1 Celsius degree warmer than the pre-industrial level, and shows that the world is moving ever closer to the warming threshold of 1.5 Celsius degrees, beyond which many scientists have concluded the impacts of climate change will be unacceptably dangerous,” said Bob Ward, who is director of policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, part of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Last year’s warmth was manifested across the planet, from the warm tropical ocean waters off the coast of northeastern Australia, where the Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst coral bleaching event on record and large scale coral death, to the Arctic, where sea ice hit regular monthly record lows and overall temperatures were also the warmest on record, at least from January through September of 2016.

Among major 2016 events, the devastating bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 did not stand alone. In a catalogue of some of the extremes the planet witnessed during the year, NOAA also noted the megafire that engulfed Fort McMurray, Canada, at the beginning of May, relatively early in the year for wildfires. That event was certainly consistent with a warming climate, as well as with the role of El Niño, although scientists are reluctant to formally say that climate change has played a role in an individual event without conducting extensive analysis.

Extreme high temperatures were seen from India — where the city of Phalodi recorded temperatures of 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit) in May, a new national record — to Iran, where a temperature of 53 degrees Celsius (127.4 F) was recorded in Delhoran on July 22.

For the contiguous Unites States, 2o16 was merely the second warmest year on record, but for Alaska, it was the warmest yet recorded, underscoring once again the sharpness of Arctic warmth in particular.

The particular signature of warming in 2016 was also revealing in another way, Overpeck said, noting that the stratosphere, the layer of the planet’s atmosphere stretching from about 8.5 to 13.5 miles above us, saw record cold temperatures last year.

“The pattern of record warmth in the lower atmosphere, coupled with record cold in the stratosphere provides an clear fingerprint of the cause of the unprecedented warming – greenhouse gases trapping heat in the lower atmosphere instead of letting it escape to the stratosphere, and then to space. No doubt about it any more – humans, mainly by burning fossil fuels, are cooking the planet,” Overpeck said.

Here’s the release NASA, NOAA Data Show 2016 Warmest Year on Record Globally:

[This color-coded map displays a progression of changing global surface temperatures anomalies from 1880 through 2016. The final frame represents global temperature anomalies averaged from 2012 through 2016 in degrees Celsius.]

Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern recordkeeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.

The 2016 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. NOAA scientists concur with the finding that 2016 was the warmest year on record based on separate, independent analyses of the data.

Because weather station locations and measurement practices change over time, there are uncertainties in the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences. However, even taking this into account, NASA estimates 2016 was the warmest year with greater than 95 percent certainty.

“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months. October, November, and December of 2016 were the second warmest of those months on record — in all three cases, behind records set in 2015.

Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and cause corresponding variations in global wind and weather patterns, contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature. A warming El Niño event was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016. Researchers estimate the direct impact of the natural El Niño warming in the tropical Pacific increased the annual global temperature anomaly for 2016 by 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.12 degrees Celsius).

Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced record average temperatures last year. For example, both NASA and NOAA found the 2016 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the second warmest on record. In contrast, the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever, consistent with record low sea ice found in that region for most of the year.

The planet's long-term warming trend is seen in this chart of every year's annual temperature cycle from 1880 to the present, compared to the average temperature from 1880 to 2015. Record warm years are listed in the column on the right. (Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens)
The planet’s long-term warming trend is seen in this chart of every year’s annual temperature cycle from 1880 to the present, compared to the average temperature from 1880 to 2015. Record warm years are listed in the column on the right. (Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens)

NASA’s analyses incorporate surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the conclusions. The result of these calculations is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980.

NOAA scientists used much of the same raw temperature data, but with a different baseline period, and different methods to analyze Earth’s polar regions and global temperatures.

GISS is a laboratory within the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites, as well as airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. The agency develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. NASA shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

Here’s the release 2016 marks three consecutive years of record warmth for the globe from NOAA:

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-12-12-27-pm

With a boost from El Nino, 2016 began with a bang. For eight consecutive months, January to August, the globe experienced record warm heat. With this as a catalyst, the 2016 globally averaged surface temperature ended as the highest since record keeping began in 1880, according to scientists from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

The average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F or 1.69 degrees F above the 20th century average. This surpassed last year’s record by 0.07 degrees F. Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

Despite the cooling influence of a weak La Nina in the latter part of the year, the year ended with the third warmest December on record for the globe, with an average temperature 1.42 degrees F above the 20th century average.

In a separate analysis of global temperature data released at the same time, scientists from NASA also found 2016 to be the warmest year on record.

significantclimateanomaliesevents2016noaa

More noteworthy findings from 2016:

The globally averaged sea surface temperature was the highest on record, 1.35 degree F above average.

The globally averaged land surface temperature was the highest on record, 2.57 degrees F above average.

North America had its warmest year on record; South America and Africa had their second; Asia and Europe had their third; and Australia had its fifth.

The average Arctic sea ice extent for the year was 3.92 million square miles, the smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

The average Antarctic sea ice extent for the year was 4.31 million square miles, the second smallest annual average since record-keeping began in 1979.

From The New York Times (Justin Gillis and John Schwartz):

The data show that politicians cannot wish the problem away. The Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization…

The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in that region has been in precipitous decline for years, and Arctic communities are already wrestling with enormous problems, such as rapid coastal erosion, caused by the changing climate.

“What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a unit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that tracks global temperatures.

But Arctic people were hardly alone in feeling the heat. Drought and starvation afflicted Africa. On May 19, the people in the town of Phalodi lived through the hottest day in the recorded history of India, 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

El Niño has now ended, and climate scientists almost universally expect 2017 to be cooler than the year before. But the scale of the heat burst has been startling to many of the experts, and some of them fear an accelerated era of global warming could be at hand over the next few years.

Even at current temperatures, billions of tons of land ice are melting or sliding into the ocean. The sea is also absorbing most of the heat trapped by human emissions. Those factors are causing the ocean to rise at what appears to be an accelerating pace, and coastal communities in the United States are spending billions of dollars to fight increased tidal flooding. Their pleas for help from Congress have largely been ignored.

The finding that a record had been set for the third year in a row was released on Wednesday by three government agencies, two American and one British, that track measurements made by ships, buoys and land-based weather stations. They analyze the figures to correct for known problems, producing an annual average temperature for the surface of the Earth. The national meteorological agency of Japan also confirmed the findings in a preliminary analysis.

The findings about a record-warm year were also confirmed by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, a nonprofit California group set up to provide a temperature analysis independent of governments. That group, however, did not find that three records had been set in a row; in its analysis, 2010 was slightly warmer than 2014.

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