Climate Change Checkup, June 2018

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A lot of warm temperature records were set in May. Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

May, 2018 continues the temperature trajectory of post-El Niño years — back to the pre-El Niño (before 2015) trend, which is to say modestly higher. And yet … there is something more unsettling about May’s data than that of previous months. There is also a new study that shows an acceleration of melting of Antarctic ice. Then, there are the bees and an anniversary of sorts. Let’s check up on the changing climate.

NOAA Reports May, 2018 Was Fourth Warmest

According to NOAA’s monthly global land and sea temperature analysis, May 2018 trailed only the previous three years for global temperature; records go back to 1880. The global average is not a surprise, as conditions in the central Pacific Ocean are now neutral (neither El Niño nor La Niña). But the distribution of anomalies suggests things might be changing, even if the averages don’t show it. And the statistics for the 3-month northern hemisphere spring season look even more suspicious.

May 2018 Temperature Records

For the first time since I began writing this column, there are two spots with record cold temperatures in May: far northeastern Canada; the central Atlantic south of Greenland. In addition, a good chunk of central Eurasia was well below normal. Still, the record warm outpaces the cold by a wide margin. New warm temperature records for May were set in the following locations:

  • Portions of the South Atlantic, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans
  • A swath from northern Africa through central Europe and into the North Sea
  • Part of the central US
  • Parts of east Asia
  • A good chunk of the North Atlantic Ocean
  • Eastern and western portions of the North Pacific Ocean

If the temperature rises at a uniform rate and the same rate everywhere, civilization will adjust more easily than if the temperatures are unpredictable and highly variable.

March To May Period Shows A New Trend — Will It Last?

The temperature pattern for May shows a clear trend in both hemispheres: warmth is widely spread around the temperate zone, while the equatorial regions are near normal. This trend is even more noticeable for the March to May period. One northern hemisphere spring doesn’t make a consistent trend, but it’s something to watch. And we will.

New Data On Antarctica: Where The Ice Is

Antarctic ice-melt contribution to sea level rise is accelerating. Graphic courtesy of NASA.

Though the press pays much attention to the melting glaciers of Greenland, there is much more ice in Antarctica. If all the Antarctic ice were to melt, the oceans would rise 190 feet. But don’t go running for high ground or planning to build an ark just yet; currently sea level is rising at a rate of about a foot a century — or was until recently.

A new report by NASA finds that since 2012, the rate of melting over Antarctica has tripled, and the ocean has risen 0.12 inches as a result of adding this water. This is on top of the rise due to thermal expansion (warm water takes up more volume than cold). OK, doesn’t sound like a lot. But every foot of vertical rise in the ocean computes to a horizontal advance of 100 feet.

New Study Finds Flooding Will Become A Regular Occurrence

Where? you ask. Where I live.

The Union of Concerned Scientists finds that by 2060, one-quarter of the homes in Hull, Massachusetts, where I live, will flood daily at high tide. Other parts of Boston and its suburbs will also flood often, the report says.  After downtown Boston flooded severely this winter, a proposal to construct a fourteen billion dollar barrier in Boston Harbor was rejected. Communities are now on their own to find solutions to sea level rise.

How Will Plants And Animals Respond To Global Warming?

A bee is covered with pumpkin pollen. Global warming may affect the relationship between pumpkin plant and bee. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Depends which plant or animal you ask. And how the warming is distributed. Trees, for example, will generally respond to the average temperature. They can withstand cold nights and unusually warm days. But honeybees may not be so indifferent to the range of temperatures.

In the spring, the bees huddle to keep the queen warm until eggs are laid and the bees get to work doing …. whatever bees do. But if there is an unusually cold night late in the season — even though the average temperature is higher — the larvae will die and the bees must start all over.

As plants and animals respond, each in its own way, to global warming, the results may be to throw some of the ecosystems out of sync. Birds are programmed to arrive when plants provide the food they need. If the plants change their habits, the animals must respond to the plants.

Global Warming Celebrates An Anniversary

If climate change had a birth, it was 30 years ago. On June 23, 1988, James Hansen, NASA’s top scientist, testified before Congress that global warming had begun. Many scoffed. Thirty years later, with global temperatures one degree Celsius higher and oceans up a foot from pre-industrial levels, few are scoffing.

The next climate change checkup will appear after the release of NOAA’s June global temperature analysis in mid-July.

The next Weather Around The World will be published on July 3, 2018.

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