Thursday, 24 June 2010

The harsh reality of climate change

from The Standard
19 June 2010

The most comprehensive collection and analysis of global temperature trends comes from NOAA (the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) who collect data worldwide through the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Global Telecommunication System (GTS) from more than 200 countries world wide. In the context of the debate over climate change from global warming, the report for May 2010 makes sobering reading. Highlights for the global climate (skipped a regional highlight) in May include
  • It was the warmest May on record for the global surface temperature as a whole, and for the land surfaces of the globe.
  • It was the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere and for land areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
  • This was the 303rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th Century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985.

This is a fact that the CCDs (Climate Change Deniers and skeptics) seem to neglect to observe.
Climate is an overall pattern of change over significant periods of time – it is statistical in nature. Instead they prefer to look at short regional patterns of weather like the cool winter in Northern Europe and the Northern America. They ignore the relative warmth in neighboring areas in the Arctic from where that cold spilled over from. I’ve commented on this nitpicking tendency in a previous post – A note to idiots – Weather is not Climate. The climb in world averaged temperature anomalies against the 20th century average is clearly apparent in the chart on the right. Click it for a larger image.

NOAA highlights for the early part of this year include:-
  • It was the warmest March-May on record for the global surface temperature as a whole, and for the land surfaces of the globe. 
  • Each of the months of March, April and May 2010 were the warmest on record. This ties 2010 with 1998 (Feb, Jul, Aug) for the most “warmest months” in any calendar year. Other years with “warmest months”: 2005 (Jun, Sep); 2003 (Oct); 2004 (Nov); 2006 (Dec); 2007 (Jan); 
  • The year-to-date (Jan-May) temperature is the warmest first five months on record.
  • The two years which were ultimately the warmest on record (2005 and 1998), like 2010, began in the middle of an El Nino which faded to neutral conditions during the spring.

The hottest year globally to date was in 2005 (not 1998 as many myth-believers seem to prefer for ideological reasons) because it had a warmer overall year from June to December. This year is shaping up to be even warmer. Moreover, we’re still at a low point in the solar sunspot cycle and it will only get warmer from now until after that peaks in 2013. But regardless of the solar cycle, it is still getting hotter globally in the early part of this century as the sunspots have been subsiding. The Earths atmosphere and oceans are retaining more heat than they are releasing – exactly what you’d expect from pumping excess greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – click the image left. The same rapid rise is seen in CO2 and other greenhouse gases worldwide.
Comparing 20 years of Global Temperature Trends
Each of the 10 warmest average global temperatures recorded since 1880 have occurred in the last fifteen years. The warmest year-to-date on record, through May, was 1998, and 2010 is warmer so far (note: although 1998 was the warmest year through May, a late-year warm surge in 2005 made that year the warmest total year). Analysis by the National Climatic Data Center reveals that May of 2010 was the warmest global average for that month on record, and is also the warmest year-to-date from January to May.
NOAA display most of their information as temperature anomalies against the average for the 20th century, measured in a grid of 5 degrees of latitude and longitude. The reason for this is to remove the issues with the siting of measurement stations, and the sparseness of weather stations in some regions of the world.
Temperature anomaly refers to the difference from average. The global temperature is calculated using anomalies because they give a more accurate picture of temperature change. If calculating an average temperature for a region, factors like station location or elevation affect the data, but when looking at the difference from the average for that same location, those factors are less critical. For example, while the actual temperature on a hilltop will be different than in a nearby valley on a given day or month, stations in both places will show a similar trend in temperature when you calculate the change in temperature compared to average for that station.
Using anomalies also helps minimize problems when stations are added to or removed from the monitoring network. The above diagram helps show how even if one station were removed from the record or did not report data for some period of time, the average anomaly would not change significantly, whereas the overall average temperature could change significantly depending on which station dropped out of the record.

The weather stations are unevenly distributed around the globe with large holes in data collection in the polar and mid-ocean areas. Some of this is supplemented with satellite information calibrated against the actual earth surface readings. However the sparseness can be seen in the image on the right (click on it for a animation showing a typical monthly collection cycle).

Sure, it’d be nice to have more data collection points. However it is the accelerating global trend that is interesting, not the nitpicking of self-deluding fools like singularian.  They prefer to avoid looking at the real issue by nitpicking at relatively inconsequential details – which will not affect the overall picture.

Getting a more accurate picture would help with the modeling of the consequences of rapid climate change. It will not help with stopping or slowing the process – which is increasing looking like it will run out of our control in the next few decades. The underlying personal motivation for that type of pathetic nitpicking appears to be to avoid having to pay a relatively small cost now to start curtailing the dramatic escalation of greenhouse gas emissions. That will wind up with a far bigger and more costly problem in the future.

In their own, the population migrations required as shifting climate patterns this century (and probably even in the next few decades) destroy our thousands of years of farming practices will dwarf any previous human undertakings in size and resources required. Human society can barely handle the current small famines in regional areas, or severe weather events like New Orleans (in the richest country in the world).

As the amount of energy geometrically mounts in the atmosphere and oceans, the frequency of such events will rise geometrically as well. No part of the world will be unaffected. If the weather doesn’t cause them a problem, then the people spilling over borders as migrants or starving warriors will.

Pedantic muttering like another commentator (Ulf) made on the ‘climategate’ e-mails might satisfy their ability to avoid looking at the bigger issues. But they don’t do anything to change the causal reasons producing the increasing signs of impending global problems from an addiction to a carbon based economy. To me, I’m really uninterested in the detail of the operation of a British research institution. You may be useful idiots for the spinsters of the carbon industry to divert immediate attention from the issues, but frankly your concerns have nothing to do with the science and everything to do with avoidance behaviors. It is pathetic.

What I find more worrying is the detail of the recent temperature anomalies around Antarctica. Recent NOAA charts have shown a cooling anomaly at the edge of that continent. Antarctica is circled by circumpolar trough winds driving from east to west pushing the circumpolar current. This has effectively been maintaining the continent in a deep freeze. I’ve commented at the end of last year that all hell would break loose if that system started to fail. An increasing cooling anomaly compared to the historical pattern of the 20th century suggests this may be happening.

Movement of too much cold air out of Antarctica would allow for rapid changes in the rest of the worlds climate. It would also lead to the defrosting of large quantities of ice in the West Antarctica ice sheet (WAIS). Historical geological evidence indicates that when this has happened in the past it has been fairly rapid because it is a tipping trigger operating on a feedback. The more breakdown there is, then the faster the ice melts, which then speeds up the breakdown in cold containment.

I’ll leave you with that unhappy thought for pondering with over the weekend…

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