NASA map shows temperature anomalies from March 13-19, 2012 as compared to the same eight day period during the past 12 years based on data captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra satellite. Click to enlarge.
Central U.S. and parts of Canada have seen over a thousand record temperatures shattered over the past week and a half, as an abnormally-long and bizarrely-hot warm spell moves across portions of North America. The direct cause of the weird weather is a blocked high pressure system, but as the U.S. experiences what may be the warmest March on record, meteorologists say climate change may be playing a role in the severity of the heatwave.
“It is highly unlikely the warmth of the current ‘Summer in March’ heat wave could have occurred unless the climate was warming,” noted meteorologist Jeff Masters wrote yesterday in his popular blog, Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog.
The heatwave has proven so extreme that some overnight lows have by themselves broken past high records. For example on March 18 in Rochester, Minnesota the daily low was two degrees higher than the previous record high. Chicago has seen seven days with highs above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that has only been hit ten other times in March since record-keeping began in the late 19th Century. International Falls, which is one of the coldest cities in the country, has matched or broken records seven days in a row. Meanwhile, a number of Canadian cities have broken all time April record highs, let alone March ones.
Masters who calls the heatwave “one of the most extreme heat events in U.S. history,” recently commented, “this is not the atmosphere I grew up with.”
While it is difficult to link extreme weather events to climate change, researchers have begun to try. An as yet unpublished paper by NASA climatologist James Hansen and others makes the case that recent extreme heat events, such as Russia’s 2010 deadly heatwave and last year’s extreme drought in Texas, are directly linked to our warming planet.
Global temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution. The past decade (2000-2009) was the warmest on record while 2010 and 2005 are generally considered tied for the warmest year on record (not 1998 as is often cited). In fact, the Earth hasn’t experienced a single year below the 20th Century average since 1975.
(03/20/2012) An updated temperature analysis by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit has confirmed that 2010, not 1998, was the warmest year since record keeping began in the late 19th Century. The new analysis adds in temperature data from 400 stations across northern Canada, Russia, and the Arctic, which had been left out of the previous analysis.
(02/13/2012) Last year the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth due to global climate change, experienced its warmest twelve months yet. According to recent data by NASA, average Arctic temperatures in 2011 were 2.28 degrees Celsius (4.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above those recorded from 1951-1980. As the Arctic warms, imperiling its biodiversity and indigenous people, researchers are increasingly concerned that the region will hit climatic tipping points that could severely impact the rest of the world. A recent commentary in Nature Climate Change highlighted a number of tipping points that keep scientists awake at night.
(01/30/2012) NASA has created a new animation showing global temperatures on a map of the Earth from 1880-2011. On the map, blues represent temperatures lower than baseline averages, while reds indicate temperatures higher than the average. As the 131 years pass, the map turns from bluish-white to increasingly yellow and red. Caused by the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agricultural practices, and other human impacts, climate change has currently raised temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the Industrial Revolution average.
(01/23/2012) Despite being a strong La Niña year, which tends to be cooler than the average year, 2011 was the ninth warmest year on record and the warmest La Niña yet, according to a global temperature analysis by NASA. To date, nine of the world’s ten warmest years have occurred since 2000 according to data going back to 1880.
(12/06/2011) New research announced at the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa finds that under current pledges for reducing emissions the global temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) from historic levels, reports the AFP. This is nearly double world nations’ pledge to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The report flies in the face of recent arguments by the U.S. and others at Durban that current pledges are adequate through 2020.
(12/05/2011) A new methodology to tease out how much current climate change is linked to human activities has added to the consensus that behind global warming is us. The study, published in Nature Geoscience found that humans have caused at least three-quarters (74 percent) of current warming, while also determining that warming has actually been slowed down by atmospheric aerosols, including some pollutants, which reflect sunlight back into space.
(11/30/2011) As officials meet at the 17th UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa, the world continues to heat up. The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced that they expect 2011 to be the warmest La Niña year since record keeping began in 1850. The opposite of El Nino, a La Niña event causes general cooling in global temperatures.
(11/02/2011) Unprecedented flooding in Thailand, torrential rains pummeling El Salvador, long-term and beyond-extreme drought in Texas, killer snowstorm in the eastern US—and that’s just the last month or so. Extreme weather worldwide appears to be both increasing in frequency and intensity, and a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) connects the dots between wilder weather patterns and global climate change.
(10/26/2011) Last year’s Russian heatwave and drought resulted in vast wildfires and a morality rate that was 56,000 people higher than the same period in 2009. Now, researchers have published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that finds the heatwave would very likely have never happened if not for climate change. The study flies in the face of previous research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that concluded the heatwave was simply due to natural variation and not a warming world.
(10/24/2011) If governments are to keep the pledge they made in Copenhagen to limit global warming within the ‘safe range’ of two degrees Celsius, they are running out of time, according to two sobering papers from Nature. One of the studies finds that if the world is to have a 66 percent chance of staying below a rise of two degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions would need to peak in less than a decade and fall quickly thereafter. The other study predicts that pats of Europe, Asia, North Africa and Canada could see a rise beyond two degrees Celsius within just twenty years.