Archive for the ‘Global warming’ Category

Pacific Dying

February 23, 2015

I am sorry to tell you this, I know that you don’t want to believe that this is happening, but it is.  I am sorry.

Scientists study massive krill die-off on Northern California coast

July 25, 2013  San Jose Mercury News

Scientists say the strandings were reported from Newport, Ore., to McKinleyville in northern Humboldt County in mid-June, making it the geographically largest krill die-off on record.An examination of 10 krill found all were female and most carried sperm packets, suggesting they may have perished just after mating, Tyburczy said.

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West Coast sardine crash could radiate throughout ecosystem

January 05, 2014 Los Angeles Times

To blame is the biggest sardine crash in generations, which has made schools of the small, silvery fish a rarity on the West Coast. The decline has prompted steep cuts in the amount fishermen are allowed to catch, and scientists say the effects are probably radiating throughout the ecosystem, starving brown pelicans, sea lions and other predators that rely on the oily, energy-rich fish for food.If sardines don’t recover soon, experts warn, the West Coast’s marine mammals, seabirds and fishermen could suffer for years.

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Mass Death of Seabirds in Western U.S. Is ‘Unprecedented’

January 23, 2015  National Geographic

“This is just massive, massive, unprecedented,”

said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington seabird ecologist who oversees the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a program that has tracked West Coast seabird deaths for almost 20 years. “We may be talking about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. So far.”

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‘Prepare for the worst': Struggling to save starving sea lions on California shores

January 15, 2015  Orange County Register

“This year could be a perfect storm,” Nollens said. “An El Niño climate event affecting the females and yearlings and something still unexplained affecting the skinny pups.”. . .

Later this month, she will go out again.

“We’ve told the centers to prepare for the worst,” she said.

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This is NOT an El Nino year.  This is a third year of unprecedented West Coast offshore sea surface temperature warming that is the HALLMARK of global warming.

Do you still think that global warming is a hoax, you arrogant, misanthropic, sociopathic, fascist bastards???

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ORIGINALLY POSTED TO NEW MINAS ON SAT FEB 14, 2015 AT 07:33 PM PST.

ALSO REPUBLISHED BY CLIMATE ACTION HUB AND CLIMATE CHANGE SOS.

 

These Valentine’s Day cards will show you care and cost you nothing

February 14, 2015

Grist / Amelia Bates

Love is in the air! Or maybe that’s smog. Either way, don’t celebrate this Valentine’s Day by shelling out your hard-earned dollar bills to some corporate behemoth for meaningless cards and mass-market tulips. Instead, give these Gristy valentines to the love of your life — and if they’re all, “Why no chocolate???,” explain that there’s nothing less romantic than deforestation-causing cocoa production.

To share, right click any of the images below to save them, then post on bae’s Facebook page, tweet it out, email it, whatever. Or, if you’d prefer a 3D V-Day card, right-click “Printable version,” which will take you to a full-size image that you can then print and bestow upon your sweetie like you didn’t forget all about the big day until just now.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks. May true love blanket the world like so much atmospheric carbon.

printableearth
Grist / Amelia Bates

You make me “HOT,” Valentine!

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printablecouple
Grist / Amelia Bates

Roses are red, and I’m feeling blue, climate change is scary, at least I’ve got you! 

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printablecoalplant
Grist / Amelia Bates

You’re the coal plant to my rising temperature 

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U.S. Droughts Will Be the Worst in 1,000 Years

February 13, 2015

The Southwest and central Great Plains will dry out even more than previously thought
February 12, 2015 |By Mark Fischetti

The dryness of soil, basically measured as a balance between precipitation and evaporation, is predicted to drop steadily in the U.S. central Great Plains and Southwest, during the second half of this century.
Credit: Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains. Benjamin Cook et. al in Science Advances, Feb. 12, 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO—Several independent studies in recent years have predicted that the American Southwest and central Great Plains will experience extensive droughts in the second half of this century, and that advancing climate change will exacerbate those droughts. But a new analysis released today says the drying will be even more extreme than previously predicted—the worst in nearly 1,000 years. Some time between 2050 and 2100, extended drought conditions in both regions will become more severe than the megadroughts of the 12th and 13th centuries. Tree rings and other evidence indicate that those medieval dry periods exceeded anything seen since, across the land we know today as the continental U.S.

The analysis “shows how exceptional future droughts will be,” says Benjamin Cook, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and lead author of the study. The work was published online today in the inaugural edition of Science Advances and was released simultaneously at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting here.

Cook and his colleagues reached their conclusion by comparing 17 different computer projections of 21st century climate with drought records of the past millennium, notably data in the North American Drought Atlas. (The atlas is based on extensive tree-ring studies conducted by Cook’s father, Edward, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.) The models consistently demonstrated drought worse than at any time during that epoch, and worse than the current drought out West, which has prevailed for 11 of the previous 14 years, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In 2014 the drought cost California more than $2 billion in agricultural loses alone, according to the University of California, Davis.

The models also revealed that the drying in the Southwest would result from a combination of less rain and greater soil evaporation due to higher temperatures. They were not as conclusive about less rain in the central Great Plains but all showed more evaporation there. “Even where rain may not change much, greater evaporation will dry out the soils,” Cook says.

Drought, of course, means more stress on crops and possibly greater water shortages in urban areas. “We have strategies today to deal with drought—develop more drought-resistant crops, use more groundwater,” Cook says. “But if future droughts will be much more severe, the question is whether we can extend those strategies or if we need new ones.” Municipal planners and legislators may have a tough challenge, and groundwater is a finite resource. “Our water laws and sharing agreements are very convoluted,” Cook notes. Untangling them in order to make conservation measures practical and equitable “could become a wicked problem.”

The next step for Cook’s group will be to try to determine when the transition to severe drought will begin: in the next 20 years, the next 50 years? We’re still uncertain about that,” he says.

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Planetary Suicide

February 11, 2015
Life Arts 2/11/2015 at 11:09:17

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Every so often a nonfiction book comes along that, because of its objective, comprehensive coverage of a hot topic, should be carefully read with a highlighter in hand by everyone. That new book is“Unprecedented” by David Ray Griffin. Be warned, this book will probably bum you out. It presents the most readable treatment of the global warming and climate change issue that anyone could wish for. It is not an emotional rant, but rather a carefully organized and detailed discussion. Most significantly, with carefully documented sources, it allows a reader to fully appreciate the compelling and overwhelming scientific evidence supporting a negative view of our planet’s and civilization’s future.

Sadly, I suspect that the many climate deniers who most need to read such a book and learn all the facts will probably not do so. However, for the greater number of sensible people who do believe that the planet is, or is likely to be, on a path to unspeakable disaster, this book is a most useful resource to better understand, debate and actively support faster and more effective political action by the US and other nations.

I was more motivated than most others to read this book because I recently completed a trip into the Antarctic. With my own eyes I saw evidence of what Griffin discusses, including sea-level rise resulting from melting ice and higher ocean temperatures. I find this particular problem perhaps the most compelling of a number of global environmental changes that threatens humanity. Why? Because sea-level rise has been going on for a long time, eating up coastal lands all over the world. But now sea-level rise is accelerating and at such a rapid rate that virtually all major coastal cities are extremely threatened.

Emissions already in the atmosphere spell tragedy for 316 US cities where 3.6 million people live, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And without forceful action, things will only get worse.

People may not care much about a few islands disappearing. But untold millions of people will face the need to escape cities worldwide that will not be able to cope with and survive many feet of higher oceans flooding their infrastructure, streets and housing. Where will those millions of people go? How will such deep economic disaster be managed by governments?

What I saw in Antarctica was the melting away of glaciers on mountains. Even more startling was seeing unbelievably large tabular, rectangular icebergs in the ocean near Antarctica, often with dimensions of a mile or more. These are pieces of ice sheets that are increasingly breaking off because of warmer air and water. Third, is the shrinkage of some penguin home sites because of higher temperatures.

Will technology come to the rescue? I am old enough to remember the 1960s when there was a passionate argument that rising population and consequent food shortages spelled global doom. It did not happen. Why? Because various technologies came to the rescue and greatly expanded food production. This and other disaster scenarios that never come to pass foster an attitude of technological optimism. This blocks both political action and public demands for emergency solutions to ecological catastrophe tied to climate change and global warming. So, will there be a technological solution enacted fast enough to prevent this new nightmare scenario? It is a lot to hope for. It is being called geoengineering. It includes methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and to reflect sunlight. Griffin pays just a little attention to geoengineering and not in the final section of the book where it belongs.

A major problem with all those trying to get the public, the media and the political world to focus on fast actions to sharply cut carbon dioxide emissions now is that they fear attention to geoengineering will make it harder to take rapid actions to replace dirty technologies with green ones. Two new related reports on climate intervention by the US National Academy of Sciences support more geoengineering research. But the head of the research project noted “we need to do more now to reduce emissions, which is the most effective, least risky way to combat climate change.”

The best strategy is to pursue both approaches, emissions reduction and geoengineering, with vigor, but this is not emphasized by Griffin or many others sounding alarms about climate change. With so much at stake, to depend on either approach by itself is foolish. To wait until emissions reduction does not greatly cut global disaster threats to develop a geoengineering solution is crazy.

Another cautionary note to the many trying to broaden public passion and government action is to stop saying things like what Griffin says at the end of his book: “Given our refusal to cut emissions over the past 30 years, it is already too late to save the kind of world that has been hospitable to human being since the rise of civilization.” Ok, maybe that pessimistic view has some credence. But it also can feed broad public disinterest because it is too late and makes it difficult to take gutsy political action and spend big money on remedies.

As Griffin noted, a 2013 Pew poll found that only 28 percent of Americans believe climate change should be a top priority of federal politicians. What an utterly dismal situation. A more recent 2015 poll found that the segment of the US population having the strongest views for addressing climate change are Hispanics and, conversely, Republicans have the least concern about it. Unless a large majority of people take responsibility for contributing to planetary suicide the worst scenarios are likely to come true.

I urge everyone who reads this book to get at least three other people to also read it. If pessimism, selfishness and narcissism prevail, concern about future generations will be largely disregarded. Can most people give high priority to the strong possibility that the human race as we know it today does not survive? The subtitle of Griffin’s book is “Can civilization survive the CO2 crisis?” Read the book and you are likely to say No! Then the question is: Are you now motivated to speak up and work to avoid perilous decay and doomsday?

 

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Joel S. Hirschhorn is the author of Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. His current political writings have been greatly influenced by working as a senior staffer for the U.S. Congress and for the (more…)

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Is it Too Late to Save the Planet?

January 24, 2015

SavingthePlanet012415

Our planet’s ecosystem is under duress and human activity and human behavior as the main culprits. It’s time our species stops contributing to the problem and starts becoming the solution.

Entropy:

  1. Physics – a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.
  1. lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

Having fun in the sun last summer was no sweat for people living on the East Coast – literally. As the rest of the country sweltered, Easterners were experiencing cooler-than-normal temperatures last summer. It was a gift to any climate-denying member of Congress who happened to be living in Northern Virginia, for example. “Proof” that global warming is a hoax.

Westerners weren’t so fortunate.  The weirdly cool weather on the East Coast was matched by weirdly warm and dry weather on the West Coast.  Specifically in South California.  Each is an example of what climate scientists call an anomaly. Like a Republican or Democrat in Congress who cares more about serving the people than getting re-elected – anomalies happen in all times and places.

Hence the question Amy Davidson posed in a recent article in the New Yorker (“Our Hottest Year, Our Cold Indifference”):  Will indifference to climate science one day be an anomaly?

We know that the planet’s ecosystem is under duress. We know that everything from biodiversity to ocean chemistry is being degraded, that entropy due to global population growth and human activity is a major cause.  We know that climate change is not some sci-fi fantasy anymore. It is happening, the signs are abundant, and, as Davidson rightly points out, too many of our leaders – and I dare say, too many voters – are indifferent. “The planet is changing, and we are close to the time when trying to check climate change will be like trying to redirect El Niño with canoe paddles.”

She’s right, of course.  But two things often missing in cautionary tales about our beleaguered planet are 1) a policy prescription for the government and 2) an action  program for the rest of us. Specifically, there’s rarely any mention of conservation as a kind of categorical public-policy imperative.

It isn’t enough to decry lower oil prices as a disincentive to dependence on fossil fuel. Global population stands at a staggering 7.3 billion and will continue to rise for the next few decades if not longer. Nobody wants to talk about population in part because most everything that can be done about that issue has already been or is being done. Yet the numbers are still rising, will continue to rise, and cannot be reversed without some catastrophic event — a pandemic, major asteroid impact, or nuclear holocaust. No one wants that, it probably won’t happen, and no one wants to hear, read, or think about it.

So there’s nothing we can do, right?  Wrong.

The science is clear – human activity and human behavior are changing the planet, and not in a good way.  Astrophysicist Adam Frank put this point into sharper focus: “The defining feature of a technological civilization is the capacity to intensively ‘harvest’ energy. But the basic physics of energy, heat and work known as thermodynamics tell us that waste, or what we physicists call entropy, must be generated and dumped back into the environment in the process.” Globally, we generate around 100 billion megawatt hours of energy every year and dump 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere and oceans, not to mention rivers, coal slurry impoundments (“sludge ponds”), aquifers, and underground “sequestration”, all of which goes a very long way to explaining the  overheating planet and acidifying oceans.

We’re in control and reckless which is why the planet is out of control and threatened.  As a species, we will either modify our behavior or perish, but not before we drive many other species into distinction (a process well underway).

Still, we’re not doomed.  Not yet, anyway. Maybe we can change.  Maybe out indifference will give way to our instinct for survival in time.  Maybe we will come to understand that we have to conserve in order to survive, reorganize our cities and societies, depend less on long-distance transport and travel, and do more on a local level. We have to drive fewer cars fewer miles, build mass transit systems, and subsidize riders for being good citizens. We have to consume less and conserve more of everything — from water and fossil fuel to wildlife and rain forests. We have to do a much better job of protecting the atmosphere, oceans, topsoil.

Our species has caused this problem and there will be a lot more of us either contributing to the problem or becoming the solution in the future. We have to learn to do more with less. A lot less. It probably won’t happen any time soon on the scale that’s needed, but it will happen sooner or later because it has to.  Let’s hope it won’t be too late.

Scientists to Earth: Prepare to Abandon Planet

January 18, 2015

Earth First! Now we’ll trash the other planets. There are other planets, right? (Photo by Gideon Wright/Flickr)

Two major scientific studies out this week agree that it may well be time to include other planets in your future relocation plans. Because we have just about finished trashing this one. One study says that of nine “planetary boundaries,” which is to say boundaries between inhabitable and uninhabitable, human activity has already wrecked four. The other finds an implacable rise in the number of mass dyings of animals, of such magnitude that they “can reshape the ecological and evolutionary trajectories of life on Earth.” And, need we specify, not in a good way. Let’s see what these studies say, and then consider what we should make of what they say.

Five years ago, a group of scientists laid out a series of benchmarks for assessing the damage we’ve done to the web of life. They established nine “boundaries” that define a “safe operating space” for humanity — theoretical limits to destruction that we exceed at our peril. They were: the rate at which species are becoming extinct; the rate of deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the flow of nutrients from fertilizer into the oceans; ozone depletion; freshwater use; ocean acidification; atmospheric aerosol pollution; and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

The purpose of the current paper was to refine the boundaries concept and to see how we are doing. It concluded that we have already trampled the first four boundaries and are endangering the remainder. “Human activities are destabilizing the global environment,” said the paper’s lead author, Will Steffen of the Australian National University. When exactly the system will become destabilized, putting the entire human population in dire peril, cannot be estimated with certainty but Steffen sees it happening, on the current course, in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”

Take that as the good news: the bad news is that MMEs — mass mortality events — are on the rise around the world. They key word here is mass: we’re talking about events in which at least a  billion animals die, more than 90% of an existing population, leaving 700 million tons of corpses. Believe it or not, there have been 727 such events recorded since 1940. And a survey of those events finds that they are increasing in frequency for birds, marine invertebrates and fish, while remaining constant for mammals and decreasing for reptiles and amphibians.

What are we to make of such science? Most of our brethren and, um, cistern will ignore it, as they do any science not headlined “miracle weight loss without effort.” Some of us, a decided but growing minority, will take it as further evidence of a coming collapse of the industrial age. And of that minority, a minority (Guy McPherson being a prominent example) believes that what is coming is an extinction of the human race.

I will not go that far. Not because I think I have superior scientific knowledge (than Dr. McPherson? Get out!) or can prove one case or another, but for two reasons that satisfy me.

  1. It is not useful to me to believe that all humans are going to die, or the planet is going to fry, or the sun is going to explode. So I refuse to believe it. Now, that may be as maddening in its way as the refusal of right wingers to believe in climate change despite all evidence to the contrary, simply because they don’t want to. But there is a difference. I don’t deny the possibility that Dr. McPherson et al may be right; I just prefer to act and plan and think while focussed on the possibility they may be wrong.
  2. It would be well to keep in mind, it seems to me, how wrong the scientists have been about the effects of climate change. They have consistently underestimated the speed and severity of its onset. It seems reasonable to expect them to be wrong in the future, as they try to quantify a staggering array of variables, and it does not seem reasonable to expect them to be wrong only on one side of the ledger. The two things humans have consistently underestimated is the amount of harm they are doing to natural systems, and the power of those systems to recover if we just quit doing the harm.

But all of this — the power to harm, the power to recover, the power to understand — has to bow down at present before the awesome power of stupidity in a culture that, having been told clearly and repeatedly that it is destroying the foundations of its existence, continues to do so.

It’s Official: 2014 Ranks as World’s Hottest Year on Record

January 17, 2015
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2014 marked 38th consecutive year of above-average global temperatures.

This color-coded map displays global temperature anomaly data from 2014. Image Credit:  NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

2014 was the Earth’s warmest year since records began in 1880, according to reports from federal scientists published Friday.

The finding reached by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASAoffers more confirmation of the planet’s warming trend as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.

NOAA stated that 2014’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.24°F above the 20th century average, surpassing the previous warmest year record set by 2005 and 2010.

Looking at the areas separately, the ocean was record warm, while the global land temperature was the fourth warmest.

Further, the 20 warmest years all occurred in the past 20 years, and there have been 38 consecutive years of above-average global temperatures.

“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades,” stated Gavin Schmidt, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) in New York. “While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Commenting on the record-breaking year, meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Hensonwrote:

Climate change is already causing significant impacts to people and ecosystems, and these impacts will grow much more severe in the coming years. New research is painting a clearer picture of the tough decisions that lie ahead if we hope to reduce the serious risks that we and our planet face. As we approach the critical negotiations in Paris in December to hammer out a new binding climate change treaty, we should keep in mind that we can choose to take economically sensible steps to lessen the damage of climate change, and the cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of action.

This video from NOAA gives a visual image of the Earth’s temperature deviation from the 20th century average:

NASA Goddard offers this video summary of the new findings:

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2014 Was The Hottest Year Since At Least 1880, Government Finds

January 17, 2015

Posted: 01/16/2015 11:06 am EST Updated: 01/16/2015 2:59 pm EST
HEAT WAVE 2014

2014 was the hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced on Friday.

The year’s average combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 58.24 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA. This is 1.24 F above the 20th-century average. Global average land temperatures were 1.80 F above average, while ocean surface temperatures were 1.03 F above average, the agency said. Land temperatures alone were only the fourth-warmest on record, but ocean temperatures were the warmest, which helped to make 2014 the warmest year overall.

NOAA and NASA record temperature observations independently, but both agencies confirmed 2014 to be a record-breaking year. NASA reported 2014’s average temperature to be 58.42 F, which the agency reported was 1.22 F above a 1951-1980 average.

Previously, 2010 and 2005 held the record, but the 2014 temperature edged out both years by 0.07 F. The 10 warmest years on record have all been after 1998, and 2014 marked the 38th straight year with global average temperatures above the 20th-century average.

Six months in 2014 also set monthly global heat records: May, June, August, September, October and December of last year were all the warmest such months on record.

“Viewed in context, the record 2014 temperatures underscore the undeniable fact that we are witnessing, before our eyes, the effects of human-caused climate change,” climate scientist Michael Mann told The Huffington Post. “It is exceptionally unlikely that we would be seeing a record year, during a record-warm decade, during a multidecadal period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled over at least the past millennium, if it were not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by fossil fuel burning.”

For the U.S. alone, as opposed to the planet overall, 2014 was only the 34th warmest year on record. But temperatures in the U.S. that year still exceeded the country’s 20th-century average, for the 18th consecutive year.

Seventeen major U.S. metropolitan areas, representing 9 percent of the country’s population, were on track to have their warmest years on record, as of a December 2014 analysis from Climate Central. Ten of these 17 are located in California, one of five states that were projected to have one of their top five warmest years in 2014.

“Perhaps more important than the global temperature story are the impacts of record regional heat,” Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment, told HuffPost. “In places like California, the Southwest U.S. more generally, Australia and parts of Brazil, record heat is exacerbating drought and leading to more stress on our water supplies and forests.”

“With continued global warming, we’re going to see more and more of these unprecedented regional conditions, and with them will come more and more costs to humans and the things they value,” he added. “2014 shows that humans are indeed cooking their planet as they continue to combust fossil fuels.”

1985 was the last year that any urban area in the U.S. saw a record-cold year. February 1985 was the last time the planet saw a colder-than-average month.

“If you are younger than 29 years old, you haven’t lived in a month that was cooler than the 20th-century average,” said Marshall Shepherd, a professor at the University of Georgia and former president of the American Meteorological Society. “You will hear some skeptics say that the satellite-based temperature records don’t support these findings, but we also used ground-based instruments like thermometers and rain gauges to validate these measurements.”

The new global record is also notable because 2014 was not an El Niño year. Theweather phenomenon is marked by warmer-than-average surface ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific and leads to above average near-surface air temperatures and other impacts across the globe. El Niño has been observed during previous record-warm years like 1998, 2005 and 2010.

“A record or near-record warm year, especially absent a strong El Niño, is mostly a reminder that the long-term trend for Earth’s temperature is up, up, up,” Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer told HuffPost.

Along with rising temperatures, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to increase. Carbon dioxide concentrations surpassed 400 parts per million in May 2013, for the first time in at least 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations rise and fall slightly in an annual cycle, but remained above 400 parts per million for several months in 2014 and have already surpassed 400 again in January 2015. The last time carbon dioxide levels were this high, temperatures were up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today, and sea levels were dozens of feet higher.

The 400 parts per million milestone is somewhat symbolic, but it serves as a reminder that the massive consumption of fossil fuels continues to remake the chemistry of our atmosphere and trap more and more heat from the sun.

“The record temperatures should put to rest the absurd notion of a “pause” (what I refer to as the “Faux Pause”) in global warming,” Mann added.

Watch a NASA animation of five-year global temperature averages, mapped from 1880 to 2014:

Study Reveals Scary New Facts About Sea Level Rise

January 16, 2015

POSTED ON JANUARY 15, 2015 AT 11:05 AM UPDATED: JANUARY 15, 2015 AT 1:50 PM

Study Reveals Scary New Facts About Sea Level Rise

A Sri Lankan man throws his bait as he fishes in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, July 1, 2013.

A Sri Lankan man throws his bait as he fishes in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, July 1, 2013.

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ERANGA JAYAWARDENA

A new study from scientists at Harvard and Rutgers Universities has been sweeping the internet, and for good reason: it shows, quite alarmingly, that the planet’s seas have been rising much faster than we thought.

The research can be confusing on its face. At first glance, it shows that scientists have actually been overstating the rate of sea level rise for the first 90 years of the 20th century. Instead of rising about six inches over that period of time, the Harvard and Rutgers scientists discovered that the sea actually only rose by about five inches. That’s a big overstatement — a two quadrillion gallon overstatement, in fact — enough to fill three billion Olympic-size swimming pools, the New York Times reported.

But here’s the thing. If the sea wasn’t rising as steadily as we believed from 1900 to 1990, that means that it has been rising much more quickly than we thought from 1990 to the present day. In other words, we used to think the rate of acceleration of sea level rise in the last 25 years was only a little worse compared to the past — now that we know the rate used to be much slower, we know that it’s much worse.

This chart shows as estimate of global sea level side from four different analyses, shown in red, blue, purple, and black. Shaded regions show uncertainty.

This chart shows as estimate of global sea level side from four different analyses, shown in red, blue, purple, and black. Shaded regions show uncertainty.

CREDIT: NATURE

“What this paper shows is that the sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others,” lead writer Eric Morrow said in a statement. “It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.”

Specifically, previous research had stated the seas rose about two-thirds of an inch per decade between 1900 and 1990. But with the new study, that rate was recalculated to less than half an inch a decade. Both old and new research say that since 1990, the ocean has been rising at about 1.2 inches a decade, meaning the gap is much wider than previously thought.

Most scientists believe that the main driver of sea level rise is the thermal expansion of warming oceans and the melting of the world’s ice sheets and mountain glaciers, two phenomena driven by global warming. Antarctica, for example, is losing land ice at an accelerating rate. In December, scientists discovered that a West Antarctic ice sheet roughly the size of Texas is losing the amount of ice equivalent to Mount Everest every two years, representing a melt rate that has tripled over the last decade.

The common skeptic argument is that while Antarctica is losing land ice, it is actually gaining sea ice. While that’s true, sea ice melt does not affect sea level rise. It’s like an ice cube in a glass — if it melts, nothing happens. Up north in the Arctic, however, the loss of sea ice is just as important to look at, because when it melts, more sunlight is absorbed by the oceans. In Antarctica, sea ice melt is less of a problem for ocean warmth.

In addition, tropical glaciers in the Andes Mountains are melting, threatening freshwater supplies in South America. Some scientists have also predicted that the Greenland Ice Sheet — which covers about 80 percent of the massive country — is approaching a “tipping point” that could also have “huge implications” for global sea levels and ocean carbon dioxide absorption.

“We know the sea level is changing for a variety of reasons,” study co-author Carling Hay said. “There are ongoing effects due to the last ice age, heating and expansion of the ocean due to global warming, changes in ocean circulation, and present-day melting of land-ice, all of which result in unique patterns of sea-level change.”

All that may seem pretty grim, but there is a least one good thing to come out of the research — a new and hopefully more accurate method for measuring sea level rise. Before this study, scientists estimated global sea level by essentially dropping long yard sticks into different points of the ocean, and then averaging out the measurements to see if the ocean rose or fell.

For this study, Morrow and Hay attempted to use the data from how individual ice sheets contribute to global sea-level rise, and how ocean circulation is changing to inform their measurements. If the method proves to be better, it could serve to, as the New York Times put it, “increase scientists’ confidence that they understand precisely why the ocean is rising — and therefore shore up their ability to project future increases.”

2014 was officially the hottest year ever

January 8, 2015

For many Americans, 2014 will be remembered for its multiple blasts of Arctic air and bitter winters. And this week, another bout of freezing temperatures is marching east across the country, in the first major thermometer plunge of the season.

But as cold as you may have been last year, it’s now official that 2014 was actually the hottest year globally since record-keeping began. So confirmed the Japan Meteorological Agency in preliminary data released Monday.

japan-2014-graph
Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)

The Japanese government agency monitors and records the long-term change of the global average surface temperatures and found that 2014 was far warmer than previous years. How much warmer? 2014 exceeded the 1981-2010 temperature average by 0.27 degrees C (or 0.49 degrees F). There was unusually warm weather all around the world, from a record-breaking heat wave in Australia to the hottest European summer in 500 years.

The data shows that four out of the five hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade: In second place is 1998, then 2010 and 2013 tied for third, and 2005 in fifth place. The new numbers reveal that the world has been warming at an average rate of 0.7 degrees C (or 1.26 degrees F) per century since records began.

Two U.S. government agencies, NOAA and NASA, are expected to confirm the results of the Japanese observations in the coming weeks.

This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.


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