Sunday, March 13, 2016

February Temperature

The February 2016 land and ocean temperature anomaly was 1.35°C (2.43°F) above the average temperature in the period from 1951 to 1980, as above image shows (Robinson projection).

On land, it was 1.68°C (3.02°F) warmer in February 2016, compared to 1951-1980, as the image below shows (polar projection).

The image below combines the above two figures in two graphs, showing temperature anomalies over the past two decades.

Below are the full graphs for both the land-ocean data and the land-only data. Anomalies on land during the period 1890-1910 were 0.61°C lower compared to the period from 1951 to 1980, which is used as a reference to calculate anomalies. The blue line shows land-ocean data, while the red line shows data from stations on land only.

At the Paris Agreement, nations committed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

To see how much temperatures have risen compared to pre-industrial levels, a comparison with the period 1951-1980 does not give the full picture. The image below compares the February 2016 temperatures with the period from 1890 to 1910, again for land only.

Since temperatures had already risen by ~0.3°C (0.54°F) before 1900, the total temperature rise on land in February 2016 thus is 2.6°C (4.68°F) compared to the start of the industrial revolution.

There are a number of elements that determine how much the total temperature rise on land will be, say, a decade from now:

Rise 1900-2016: In February 2016, it was 2.3°C (4.14°F) warmer on land than it was in 1890-1910.

Rise before 1900: Before 1900, temperature had already risen by ~0.3°C (0.54°F), as Dr. Michael Mann points out (see earlier post).

Rise 2016-2026: If levels of carbon dioxide and further greenhouse gases do keep rising, there will additional warming over the next ten years. Even with dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, temperatures can keep rising, as maximum warming occurs about one decade after a carbon dioxide emission, so the full wrath of the carbon dioxide emissions over the past ten years is still to come. Moreover, mean global carbon dioxide grew by 3.09 ppm in 2015, more than in any year since the record started in 1959, prompting an earlier post to add a polynomial trendline that points at a growth of 5 ppm by 2026 (a decade from now). This growth took place while global energy-related CO2 emissions have hardly grown over the past few years, indicating that land and oceans cannot be regarded as a sink, but should be regarded as source of carbon dioxide. On land, carbon dioxide may be released due to land changes, changes in agriculture, deforestation and extreme weather causing droughts, wildfires, desertification, erosion and other forms of soil degradation. Importantly, this points at the danger that such emissions will continue to grow as temperatures keep rising. New studies on permafrost melt (such as this one and this one) show that emissions and temperatures can rise much faster in the Arctic than previously thought. Furthermore, a 2007 study found a 25% soil moisture reduction to result in 2°C warming. Altogether, the rise over the next decade due to such emissions may be 0.2°C or 0.36°F (low) to 0.5°C or 0.9°F (high).

Removal of aerosols: With the necessary dramatic cuts in emissions, there will also be a dramatic fall in aerosols that currently mask the full warming of greenhouse gases. From 1850 to 2010, anthropogenic aerosols brought about a decrease of ∼2.53 K, says a recent paper. In addition, more aerosols are likely to be emitted now than in 2010, so the current masking effect of aerosols may be even higher. Stopping aerosol release may raise temperatures by 0.4°C or 0.72°F (low) to 2.5°C or 4.5°F (high) over the next decade, and when stopped abruptly this may happen in a matter of weeks.

Albedo change: Warming due to Arctic snow and ice loss may well exceed 2 W per square meter, i.e. it could more than double the net warming now caused by all emissions by people of the world, as Professor Peter Wadhams calculated in 2012. The temperature rise over the next decade due to albedo changes as a result of permafrost and sea ice decline may be 0.2°C or 0.36°F (low) to 1.6°C or 2.9°F (high).

Methane eruptions from the seafloor: ". . . we consider release of up to 50 Gt of predicted amount of hydrate storage as highly possible for abrupt release at any time," Dr. Natalia Shakhova et al. wrote in a paper presented at EGU General Assembly 2008. Authors found that such a release would cause 1.3°C warming by 2100. Such warming from an extra 50 Gt of methane seems conservative when considering that there now is only some 5 Gt of methane in the atmosphere, and over a period of ten years this 5 Gt is already responsible for more warming than all the carbon dioxide emitted by people since the start of the industrial revolution. The temperature rise could be higher, especially in case of large abrupt release, but in case of small and gradual releases much of the methane may be broken down over the years. The temperature rise due to seafloor methane over the next decade may be 0.2°C or 0.36°F (low) to 1.1°C or 2°F (high).

Water vapor feedback: "Water vapour feedback acting alone approximately doubles the warming from what it would be for fixed water vapour. Furthermore, water vapour feedback acts to amplify other feedbacks in models, such as cloud feedback and ice albedo feedback. If cloud feedback is strongly positive, the water vapour feedback can lead to 3.5 times as much warming as would be the case if water vapour concentration were held fixed", according to the IPCC. In line with the above elements, this may result in a temperature rise over the next decade of 0.2°C or 0.36°F (low) to 2.1°C or 3.8°F (high).

The image below puts all these elements together in two scenarios, one with a relatively low temperature rise of 3.9°C (7.02°F) and another one with a relatively high temperature rise of 10.4°C (18.72°F).

Note that the above scenarios assume that no geoengineering will take place.

The 2.3°C warming used in above image isn't the highest figure offered by the NASA site. An even higher figure of 2.51°C warming can be obtained by selecting a 250 km smoothing radius for the on land data.

When adding the 0.3°C that temperatures rose before 1900, the rise from the start of the industrial revolution is 2.81°C (5.06°F), as illustrated by the image on the right.

The image also shows that this is the average rise. At specific locations, it is as much as 16.6°C (30°F) warmer than at the start of the industrial revolution.

Furthermore, temperatures are higher on the Northern Hemisphere than on the Southern Hemisphere. This is illustrated by the image below showing NASA temperature anomalies for January 2016 (black) and February 2016 (red) on land on the Northern Hemisphere. The data show that it was 2.36°C (4.25°F) warmer in February 2016 compared to 1951-1980.

How much of the rise can be attributed to El Niño? The added trendlines constitute one way to handle variability such as caused by El Niño and La Niña events and they can also indicate how much warming could be expected to eventuate over the years to come.

The February trendline also indicates that the temperature was 0.5°C lower in 1900 than in 1951-1980, so the total rise from 1900 to February 2016 is 2.86°C (5.15°F). Together with a 0.3°C rise before 1900, this adds up to a rise on land on the Northern Hemisphere of 3.16°C (5.69°F) from pre-industrial levels to February 2016. Most people on Earth live on land on the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, most people are already exposed to a temperature rise that is well above any guardrails that nations at the Paris Agreement pledged would not be crossed.

Temperatures may actually rise even more rapidly than these trendlines indicate. As above image illustrates, the largest temperature rises are taking place in the Arctic, resulting in a rapid decline of snow and ice cover and increasing danger that large methane eruptions from the seafloor will take place, as illustrated by the image on the right, from an earlier post. This could then further lead to more water vapor, while the resulting temperature rises also threaten to cause more droughts, heatwaves and wildfires that will cause further emissions, as well as shortages of food and fresh water supply in many areas.

Adding the various elements as discussed above indicates that most people may well be hit by a temperature rise of 4.46°C or 8.03°F in a low rise scenario and of 10.96°C or 19.73°F in a high rise scenario, and that would be in one decade from February 2016. Since it is now already March 2016, that is less than ten years from now.

The image below shows highest mean methane readings on one day, i.e. March 10, over four years, i.e. 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, at selected altitudes in mb (millibar). The comparison confirms that the increase of methane in the atmosphere is more profound at higher altitudes, as discussed in earlier posts. This could indicate that methane from the Arctic Ocean is hardly detected at lower altitudes, as it rises in plumes (i.e. very concentrated), while it will then spread and accumulate at higher altitudes and at lower latitudes.

The conversion table below shows the altitude equivalents in mb, feet and m.

57016 feet44690 feet36850 feet30570 feet25544 feet19820 feet14385 feet 8368 feet1916 feet
17378 m13621 m11232 m 9318 m 7786 m 6041 m 4384 m 2551 m 584 m
 74 mb 147 mb 218 mb 293 mb 367 mb 469 mb 586 mb 742 mb 945 mb

Meanwhile Arctic sea ice area remains at a record low for the time of the year, as illustrated by the image below.

Next to rising surface temperatures in the Arctic, ocean temperature rises on the Northern Hemisphere also contribute strongly to both Arctic sea ice decline and methane releases from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, so it's important to get an idea how much the Northern Hemisphere ocean temperature can be expected to rise over the next decade. The NOAA image below shows a linear trend over the past three decades that is rising by 0.19°C per decade.

The image below, using the same data, shows a polynomial trend pointing at a 1.5°C rise in ocean temperature on the Northern Hemisphere over the next decade.

Below is another version of above graph.

The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.


  1. Carbon dioxide and methane release from thawing terrestrial permafrost a third of which would be thawed at 1.5 degrees C by the end of the century. This event would double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

    And there are many others. How long will the oceans continue to absorb CO2? How much longer will the forests of the northern hemisphere cope with warming particularly the higher night time minimums? How much longer until the AMOC completely breakdown and renders the tropics uninhabitable? And so on...

  2. Act of God writ of law is warranted to enable test snap System Isolation Not @ pecuniary value applied on Open System Earth Biosphere yet we value pecuniary now and have invoked in so doing the wrath of 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The Biosphere Open System Not of Midas Touch ta. Ta Not.

  3. I got stuck on this statement:
    "Rise 1900-2016: In February 2016, it was 2.3°C (4.14°F) warmer on land than it was in 1890-1910."
    This highest estimate for the Feb rise over this period is 1.75 deg C, but perhaps your number is for LAND only, rather than a global average? I followed your source link, but it is just the general GISS page over at NASA. Can you take us to a more specific map or link which gives the 2.3 deg C number?

    1. The 2.3°C is indeed a land only figure, as it says in that sentence and as illustrated by the image directly above that sentence. This figure is for a 1200 km smoothing radius. Selecting a 250 km smoothing radius results in a 2.51°C rise from 1890-1910 (land only), or 2.81 from the start of the industrial revolution. As discussed in the post, the rise was even higher on the Northern Hemisphere.

      NASA doesn't offer direct links to these images. They can be created by going to this page (for maps) and then making the respective selections there. Sources and parameters selected to create the images in the post are mentioned on the images.

  4. Thanks Sam. That makes sense to me now.
    Aside from the clathrate threat, which is huge and hard to pinpoint, the great unknown still hanging on human action is the aerosols. Suppose China cleans up its air... but India and Indonesia fill in the same. Suppose a giant computer breakdown or terrorist attack closes down trade, industry and shopping (as 911 did in America). The cloud could clear, we may jump up so that even deniers have to notice, and nobody knows if once we jump up, if the heating process ever goes back. We may be encountering a set of stairs, which only go up.

    1. We are facing mass extinction on 3 fronts Alex, 3 converging fronts...
      1 - Loss of Bio-diversity not related to AGW, but to lose of habitat and over-exploitation of resources, like over-fishing. According to Dr. Reese Halter, Pacific Tunas will be all but gone by 2030 for example.
      2 - Ocean acidification, a direct consequence of our CO2 emissions. If the oceans die we die is not an over statement.
      3 - Man made Global Warming which will 1st put out plant life regardless of methane hydrates. A UN study (but not the only one) says that plant life will die off at 2.5°C of average global warming.
      It's biologist that most worry of the impacts of global warming (or climate change if it makes a difference).
      Rising sea levels is only a minor inconvenience in the big climate change picture, it's temperature rise we really need to worry about in the shorter term.


    2. If it's any comfort, the only way aerosols will be halted is if civilization collapses, in which case, they will probably increase temporarily as everything burns out of control, from cities to wildlands. This extinction actually most closely resembles the Greatest Mass Extinction - the Permian. It's the only one where most plant and insect species also died, because it wasn't climate change, it was poison from the erupting traps. And that is actually what we are repeating today, not merely climate change. We are releasing NOx and SOx, which is making the atmosphere toxic to trees and killing them - that is a large reason the temperature is spiking and CO2 levels are increasing. The forest sink is failing.

  5. Hello Sam
    Could recent accelerated increase in atmospheric CO2 levels be mainly driven by carbon feedback's like forest fires and dying trees?


    1. Yes, global CO2 levels grew more in 2015 than in any year since the record started in 1959. Since global energy-related CO2 emissions have hardly grown, the growth is likely due to land changes, deforestation and extreme weather causing droughts, wildfires, desertification, erosion and other forms of soil degradation.

    2. Thank you very much Sam
      It's nice to have someone like you as a mentor :-)

      Have a nice day

    3. Hello Sam
      look what I just came across
      European clean air policies unmask Arctic warming by greenhouse gases
      The drastic cut in sulfate particle emissions in Europe partly explains the amplified Arctic warming since the 1980s, shows a new study. Sulfate emissions, which cause, for example, acid rain, peaked in the 1980s in Europe and North America, which led to the implementation of strict regulations to reduce them. The new study shows that these policies had a profound effect on the Arctic.
      I thought it should interest you :-)


    4. Thanks Jack, as also discussed at the Arctic-news group. I think that unmasking Arctic warming is also due to sulfate reductions in North America. The impact of emissions from North America on the Arctic is both directly (much of the emissions from North America move toward the Arctic, due to the Coriolis force and due to changes in wind patterns) and indirectly (impact of emissions from North America on Gulf Stream).

    5. Believe it or not, I could never accept the terms and conditions on FB.
      Anyhow, that's not my point...
      I was very happy to see your blog on Thom Hartmann's show :-)))
      Excellent job my friend :-)
      Keep fighting