NOAA’s July Land and Sea Temperature analysis shows a slight easing of the worldwide temperature rise from the terrifying trend of the winter months.
But La Niña is not forming as expected, and some serious effects of man’s meddling with the atmosphere have already begun to appear.
The fear is that atmospheric circulations may switch gears and cause at best, unhelpful, and at worst, catastrophic, changes in disease and precipitation patterns.
General Temperature Trends
Despite the slight pullback of temperature anomalies (departure from normal) in the most recent months, 2016 is on pace to be the warmest in tens of thousands of years by a wide margin. The distribution of temperature over the globe has changed from earlier in the year:
There are fewer areas of record warmth, but almost the entire surface is warmer than normal. Here are some of the highlights of July temperatures:
- The area of record temperatures that stretched from the Indian Ocean to the western Pacific two months ago has shrunk to just Indonesia in July.
- With the demise of El Niño, the area of record warmth in the Pacific Ocean is confined to the western edge.
- Record warm water temperatures off the southeast US could provide fuel for storms during the upcoming height of the Atlantic hurricane season.
- Record water temperatures cover the temperate South Pacific west of South America and east of Australia.
Only three places, all in the high temperate latitudes, were below normal:
- The record cold water east of Drake’s Passage that separates South America from Antarctica persisted for a third consecutive month.
- A patch of the central south Pacific Ocean was below normal.
- The only land area below normal was a small region of northern Siberia.
The slight decline in the rate of global warming should not be taken as reason for great cheer. It could be compared to a baseball team’s scoring two runs in the seventh inning and now only trailing 8-2. It is a suggestion that it is not too late to save the atmosphere from man’s meddling, but certainly not a guarantee.
Breaking Temperatures Down By Land, Sea, And Hemisphere
NOAA calculates temperatures for land, sea, land and sea combined, northern, hemisphere, southern hemisphere, and full globe. There are nine categories. In July eight of the categories made new records for the month. Only the northern hemisphere land area failed to reach a new high — it was the third warmest on record.
Longer periods of temperature averages give a better picture of the overall trends. The January through July 2016 period was the warmest such period on record, setting new standards in all nine categories. All of the comparisons to last year’s record temperatures reveals that in the last year the temperature has risen substantially.
Extrapolation of the rate of rise in the last year produces the startling conclusion that the temperature is rising at a rate of approximately one degree Celsius every five years. Climatologists suspect that a two degree rise (Celsius) from pre-industrial times could bring about catastrophic changes in the weather. Since the temperature has already risen one degree Celsius since the beginning of industrialization, the future is not just creeping closer — judging by the temperature change in the last year, it is virtually stampeding towards us.
A Glimmer Of Hope In The Oceans
Year-to-year temperature comparisons are affected by all sorts of short-term fluctuations. Probably the best gauge of the true measure of global warming is a comparison between 2016 and 1998, the last strong El Niño year. In fact, the two El Niños are nearly identical when measured by water temperatures.
The change in global temperature between the first 7 months of 1998 and the similar period in 2016 is 0.33 degrees Celsius.
That extrapolates to a warming of one degree Celsius in about 55 years. This rate of increase gives the world’s political leaders time to react. Politics being what they are, however, reducing greenhouse gas emissions may take longer than that.
Some More Sour Notes
The chorus of voices demanding action on climate change seemed to produce an inflection point last December when the Paris climate agreement was signed by 195 countries. Since then there have been a number of setbacks.
- The treaty is non-binding in many of its requirements and some governments are dragging their feet on implementation of promised curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.
- The La Niña which has been expected to offer a period of lower warming is not developing as robustly as expected.
- Actual measurements of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, indicate that atmospheric concentrations continue to increase.
Climate Change: The Bottom Line
As geopolitics and presidential elections overwhelm climate change in the contest for media attention, the window of opportunity to nip the climate change problem in the bud is slowly closing. If this bud is allowed to flower, there is no telling where it might scatter its seeds. A uniform increase in temperature could be handled relatively easily. But if weather patterns begin to diverge in unknown directions, large changes, both increases and decreases, in temperature and precipitation could follow.
There are hints of such changes already:
- California received disappointingly little rain during the past winter and has lapsed back into serious drought, with accompanying wildfire risk.
- Flooding events are on the increase on several continents.
- Feedback having to do with albedo (how much sunlight is reflected) is causing the arctic to warm at an accelerated rate.
Decoded Science recognizes that most people are concerned with day-to-day issues. Yet, polls show that awareness of the danger posed by global warming is growing. Hope springs eternal.