A senior NASA official has taken the extraordinary step of personally rebuking One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts’ claims the agency had falsified key data to exaggerate current extreme warming in the Arctic.
Don’t let the polar vortex fool you. This year is the hottest on record — and things are only getting worse VIDEO
A surge of Arctic air has left much of the continental U.S. shivering in unusually bitter November cold. But this early foray into winter weather is just a small blip in the overall global picture, which is of a warming world that is still on track to see 2014 set the mark for hottest year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.
That warming — fueled largely by the manmade rise of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere — is so relentless, in fact, that the odds of seeing a record coldest year in the future are vanishingly small. As the animation below shows, the last time the world experienced a record-coldest year was in 1909, more than 100 years ago. But in that period, 18 records for warmest year have been set, with 2014 likely to be the 19th.
Much of the central and eastern parts of the contiguous U.S. have been relatively cool all year, with a few states even possibly set to see a top 10 coldest year. But the year as a whole has actually been close to average for the country, and California is set to see its warmest year on record by a large margin.
The bigger picture is markedly different. The globe is bathed in warm spots, with the small cold spot centered over the Great Lakes area being just one of a handful of blue spots on the world map.
August, September and October of 2014 have all been the warmest such months on record, as shown by data from NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency and NOAA, which released its October global numbers Thursday.
This single-year snapshot of the planet’s warmth fits with the pattern of ever-warmer temperatures that has been in place over the past century, particularly since the early 1980s as the warming fueled by an accumulation of greenhouse gases clearly emerged. The animation shows just how much warmth has dominated the temperature records since they began in 1880
Record cold years are plentiful in the early decades, but they stop in 1909. From there, it’s a steady march upward, with the expected year-to-year ups and downs that come from natural variation. Warm records are set through the 1930s and 40s, with a long stretch of no records until the 1980s, when the global warming signal firmly emerges from the noise of natural variation.
After that, a string of record hot years follows. And though many of the years in between weren’t records, they still ranked among the warmest. In fact, all but one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century (1998, when there was a very strong El Niño, is the exception).
How temperatures across the globe ranked from January through October 2014.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA
“The globe continues to warm just as climate models have long-predicted,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of Penn State, said in an email.
The steady uptick in warming, even with a relative slowdown in recent decades, means that the likelihood of seeing a record cold year in the future is, according to a quick calculation by Mann, “astronomically small.”
The final year in the animation, 2014, is of course not yet over. But with the October numbers now in, the year-to-date is the warmest on record, measuring 1.22°F above the 20th century average of 57.4°F, according to NOAA data. The chances of 2014 becoming the warmest year are now quite high. Even if November and December only rank in the top 10 warmest, which is likely, 2014 will take the title of warmest year.
“It’s becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record,” Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said during a press conference.
And as the animation shows, it’s a long-term trend that is likely to continue until the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are significantly curtailed.
Mann said of the possible record, “hopefully it will also drive home the urgency of reducing carbon emissions if we are to avoid dangerous interference with our climate.”
GREENBELT, Md. — I’M a climate scientist and a former astronaut. Not surprisingly, I have a deep respect for well-tested theories and facts. In the climate debate, these things have a way of getting blurred in political discussions.
In September, John P. Holdren, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, was testifying to a Congressional committee about climate change. Representative Steve Stockman, a Republican from Texas, recounted a visit he had made to NASA, where he asked what had ended the ice age:
“And the lead scientist at NASA said this — he said that what ended the ice age was global wobbling. That’s what I was told. This is a lead scientist down in Maryland; you’re welcome to go down there and ask him the same thing.
“So, and my second question, which I thought it was an intuitive question that should be followed up — is the wobbling of the earth included in any of your modelings? And the answer was no…
“How can you take an element which you give the credit for the collapse of global freezing and into global warming but leave it out of your models?”
That “lead scientist at NASA” was me. In July, Mr. Stockman spent a couple of hours at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center listening to presentations about earth science and climate change. The subject of ice ages came up. Mr. Stockman asked, “How can your models predict the climate when no one can tell me what causes the ice ages?”
I responded that, actually, the science community understood very well what takes the earth into and out of ice ages. A Serbian mathematician, Milutin Milankovitch, worked out the theory during the early years of the 20th century. He calculated by hand that variations in the earth’s tilt and the shape of its orbit around the sun start and end ice ages. I said that you could think of ice ages as resulting from wobbles in the earth’s tilt and orbit.
The time scales involved are on the order of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. I explained that this science has been well tested against the fossil record and is broadly accepted. I added that we don’t normally include these factors in 100-year climate projections because the effects are too tiny to be important on such a short time-scale.
And that, I thought, was that.
So I was bit surprised to read the exchange between Dr. Holdren and Representative Stockman, which suggested that at best we couldn’t explain the science and at worst we scientists are clueless about ice ages.
We aren’t. Nor are we clueless about what is happening to the climate, thanks in part to a small fleet of satellites that fly above our heads, measuring the pulse of the earth. Without them we would have no useful weather forecasts beyond a couple of days.
These satellite data are fed into computer models that use the laws of motion — Sir Isaac Newton’s theories — to figure out where the world’s air currents will flow, where clouds will form and rain will fall. And — voilà — you can plan your weekend, an airline can plan a flight and a city can prepare for a hurricane.
Satellites also keep track of other important variables: polar ice, sea level rise, changes in vegetation, ocean currents, sea surface temperature and ocean salinity (that’s right — you can accurately measure salinity from space), cloudiness and so on.
These data are crucial for assessing and understanding changes in the earth system and determining whether they are natural or connected to human activities. They are also used to challenge and correct climate models, which are mostly based on the same theories used in weather forecast models.
This whole system of observation, theory and prediction is tested daily in forecast models and almost continuously in climate models. So, if you have no faith in the predictive capability of climate models, you should also discard your faith in weather forecasts and any other predictions based on Newtonian mechanics.
The earth has warmed nearly 0.8 degrees Celsius over the last century and we are confident that the biggest factor in this increase is the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. It is almost certain that we will see a rise of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) before 2100, and a three-degree rise (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher is a possibility. The impacts over such a short period would be huge. The longer we put off corrective action, the more disruptive the outcome is likely to be.
It is my pleasure and duty as a scientist and civil servant to discuss the challenge of climate change with elected officials. My colleagues and I do our best to transmit what we know and what we think is likely to happen.
The facts and accepted theories are fundamental to understanding climate change, and they are too important to get wrong or trivialize. Some difficult decisions lie ahead for us humans. We should debate our options armed with the best information and ideas that science can provide.