NASA map shows temperature anomalies from March 13-19, 2012 as compared to the same eight day period during the past 12 years. The map is based on data captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra satellite. Click to enlarge.
March was the warmest ever recorded in the U.S. with record-keeping going back to 1895, according to new data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the month wasn’t just a record-breaker, it was shockingly aberrant: an extreme heatwave throughout much of the eastern and central U.S. shattered 15,272 day and nighttime records across the U.S. In all March 2012 was 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous warmest March in 1910, and an astounding 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average for March in the U.S.
According to the NOAA, forty-four of these records were broken not by a few degrees, but by over 22 degrees Fahrenheit. One record in Canada was broken by 33.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Climate scientists have become increasingly outspoken about the role of climate change in such extreme weather events. While it is not yet possible for researchers to conclusively say a single weather event was caused by climate change, scientists are becoming more confident that climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events and their severity as well. They call this “loading the dice” of extreme weather events.
A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that it is “likely” anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change has lead to overall warming in daily temperature highs and lows, noting that it is “virtually certain” this will continue throughout the century.
But, many climatologists are even less circumspect than the IPCC. A recent review paper in Nature Climate Change found “strong evidence” of a link between our warming world and extreme weather, notably droughts, floods, and heatwaves.
“Recent years have seen an exceptionally large number of record-breaking and destructive heatwaves in many parts of the world. Several recent studies indicate that many, possibly most, of these heatwaves would not have occurred without global warming,” the researchers note.
While many enjoyed the unusually warm weather in March, such heatwaves can play havoc with nature with impacts on soil moisture, wildlife migrations, and farming, as many areas have since been hit by a frost.
Global warming science is based on the trending temperature of the whole planet (the U.S. covers only 2 percent of the globe), which is undeniably on the rise. Global temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) since the the early 20th Century. 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.
(04/04/2012) Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, told the world on The Daily Show Monday night: “Just don’t be so silly” about climate change. Nasheed, who in February was forced to resign his presidency, is visiting the U.S. to meet with government officials as well as to push for climate action during the release of a new documentary film about his presidency, entitled The Island President.
(04/02/2012) In 1872 the HMS Challenger pulled out from Portsmouth, England to begin an unprecedented scientific expedition of the world’s oceans. During its over three year journey the HMS Challenger not only collected thousands of new species and sounded unknown ocean depths, but also took hundreds of temperature readings—data which is now proving invaluable to our understanding of climate change.
(03/28/2012) As North America recovers from what noted meteorologist Jeff Masters has called “the most incredible spring heatwave in U.S. and Canadian recorded history,” a new paper argues that climate change is playing an important role in a world that appears increasingly pummeled by extreme weather. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper surveys recent studies of climate change and extreme weather and finds “strong evidence” of a link between a warming world and the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, and heatwaves—such as the one that turned winter into summer in the U.S.
(03/28/2012) Data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows that Arctic sea ice for the winter of 2011-2012 reached its maximum extent on March 18 at 15.24 million square kilometers (5.88 million square miles). The mark is well below the 1979–2000 average, but was above the record low of the 2010–2011 winter.
(03/22/2012) 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.
(03/13/2012) The combined impacts of deforestation and climate change will bring a host of new troubles for the world’s tropical rainforests argues a new study in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Drying rainforests due to climate change could lead to previously inaccessible forests falling to loggers, burning in unprecedented fires, or being overexploited by hunters.
(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.