NOAA issued its March 2016 Global Temperature Analysis on April 19. It bodes ill — how much ill is still in question.
March temperatures were expected to break the record. But with water temperatures dropping in the tropical Pacific, most climatologists expected the increase to be moderate.
Global warming is not an urban myth.
The Big Picture: Ugly Numbers
The earth is warming at a rate faster than anyone thought it would — or could.
The global average land and sea temperature for March 2016 was 13.92ºC. That’s 1.22ºC above the 20th century average.
It was the highest for any March since 1880, the beginning of reliable temperature records.
It exceeded the previous record (set last year) by 0.32ºC.
This was the 11th consecutive monthly temperature record.
At this rate of temperature increase, the recent climate agreement’s goal of restricting overall global warming to 2.0ºC will be defeated before 2020 when serious curbs on greenhouse gas emissions are supposed to begin.
Though El Niño has received considerable coverage in the press, the overall warming of the earth is occurring nearly everywhere. Breaking down the numbers into separate categories for northern and southern hemisphere and land and sea, Mother Nature pitched a shutout — warmest in every category.
In addition, the period January to March was also a clean sweep.
Breaking The Temperatures Down: Who Set New Records?
The temperature percentile map shows a land and sea of red (warmer than normal) with only a few dots of blue (colder than normal). The greatest departures from normal were generally found over the oceans:
- It’s no surprise that the still powerful, though waning, El Niño produced record temperatures in the central tropical Pacific. Some of this record heat spilled into the subtropical northeastern Pacific.
- The Indian Ocean showed amazing warmth, greater in extent than that associated with El Niño. The entire tropical Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the subtropical south Indian Ocean were all at record high temperatures. This follows an active hurricane season in the north Indian Ocean, featuring the first two hurricanes to ever strike Yemen.
- The ocean warmth also encompassed the waters between Australia and Indonesia, continuing east into the subtropical and mid-latitude southwest Pacific Ocean.
- Much of equatorial Africa was record warm.
- Eastern tropical south America was record warm.
- Much of Australia was record warm.
The Cold Spots
Though it was only cold in a few places, they are important because they indicate that global warming is not uniform. Most of the cold is located in the north- and south-temperate oceans. Only one tiny spot associated with a cold pool between South America and Antarctica set a record. But two places in northern oceans are notable for different reasons.
The anti-Blob (a ridiculous name, associated with cold water areas, that seems to have stuck) in the north Atlantic has persisted for several years. A little bit of this cold pool has crept down the African coast and could impact hurricane formation during the summer. Long-term persistence of this feature implies a change in ocean currents.
In the Pacific, a former Blob (warm water area) in the Gulf of Alaska, which was at least partly responsible for the western US drought, has been largely replaced by an anti-Blob. As the Pacific transitions from El Niño to La Niña, the weather pattern over the Pacific is in flux, and a new dynamic may develop that could affect the weather worldwide.
Arctic And Antarctic
The extent of Arctic sea ice was up slightly from last year’s record, but this is no reason to cheer. Recent records from the Danish Meteorological Institute show Arctic temperatures soaring — rising at a much faster rate than the rest of the world.
In fact, underrepresentation of the Arctic in the temperature data could lead to an underestimate of the rise in global land and sea temperatures.
On the other side of the world, after a February deviation to below normal, the Antarctic sea ice extent has resumed its tendency to be increasing, though March’s deviation from average was small.
Global Warming And The Influence Of Man
Though the temperature of the earth has fluctuated by tens of degrees in the past, the change has taken place over tens of millennia, not tens of years. The increase in global land and sea temperature from March 2015 to Mach 2016 implies an increase of ten degrees Celsius in thirty years.
The causes of past global warmings and coolings have been such things as variations in the earth’s orbit or the orientation of its axis of rotation, changes that take place over a long time period. The recent warming started with the beginning of the industrial revolution. The release into the atmosphere of large quantities of carbon dioxide coincides precisely with global warming. Coincidences do occur in science, as in life, but when fact, theory and observation are so closely linked, the theory is likely to be right.
- Fact: The majority of the sun’s radiation is in the visible range. Carbon dioxide is transparent to radiation in this range and the sun heats the earth, which in turn heats the atmosphere.
- Fact: The earth also radiates, but primarily in the microwave range. Carbon dioxide absorbs microwave radiation.
- Theory: When atmospheric carbon dioxide is stable, a balance is reached between the sun’s incoming and the earth’s outgoing radiation. If carbon dioxide increases, some of the outgoing radiation is trapped and the atmosphere will warm.
- Observation: Since 1880, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased nearly 50%.
- Observation: Since 1880, the temperature of the earth has increased 1.22°C.
There’s trouble brewing. The temperature on Venus is over 400°C. The temperature on Mars averages minus 55°C. The earth has been inoculated from such extreme temperatures by a carbon cycle that kicks in when changes occur. The temperatures on Earth’s sister planets are a result (this is a simplification, of course) of rapid changes that could not be compensated for.
Has the earth entered such a phase of rapid change?