Sunday, June 13, 2021

Could temperatures keep rising?

Orbital changes are responsible for Milankovitch cycles that make Earth move in and out of periods of glaciation, or Ice Ages. Summer insolation on the Northern Hemisphere reached a peak some 10,500 years ago, in line with the Milankovitch cycles, and insolation has since gradually decreased.
Summer insolation on the Northern Hemisphere in red and in langleys
per day (left axis, adapted from Walker, 2008). One langley is 1 cal/cm²
(thermochemical calorie per square centimeter), or 41840 J/m² (joules
per square meter), or about 11.622 Wh/m² (watt-hours per square meter). 
In blue is the mean annual sea surface temperature, given as the difference
from the temperature over the last 1000 years (right axis, from Bova, 2021).

Snow and ice cover acting as a buffer

While temperatures rose rapidly, especially before the insolation peak was reached, the speed at which temperatures rose was moderated by the snow and ice cover, in a number of ways:
  • snow and ice cause sunlight to get reflected back into space
  • energy from sunlight is consumed in the process of melting snow and ice, and thawing permafrost
  • meltwater from sea ice and runoff from melting glaciers and thawing permafrost cools oceans.
In other words, the snow and ice cover acted as a buffer, moderating the temperature rise. While this buffer has declined over time, it is still exercizing this moderation today, be it that the speed at which this buffer is reducing in size is accelerating, as illustrated by the image below, showing the rise of the sea surface temperature on the Northern Hemisphere.

[ from earlier post ]

Will the snow and ice cover ever grow back?

More recently, the temperature rise has been fueled by emissions caused by people. While emission of greenhouse gases did rise strongly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the rise in emission of greenhouse gases by people had already started some 7,000 years ago with the rise in modern agriculture and associated deforestation, as illustrated by the image below, based on Ruddiman et al. (2015).

The temperature has risen accordingly since those times. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, as the image at the top shows, temperatures already had risen by 0.3°C, compared to some 6000 years before the Industrial Revolution started. When also taking into account that the temperature would have fallen naturally (i.e. in the absence of these emissions), the early temperature rise caused by people may well be twice as much.

Temperatures could keep rising for many years, for a number of reasons:
  • Snow & Ice Cover Loss - A 2016 analysis by Ganapolski et al. suggests that even moderate anthropogenic cumulative carbon dioxide emissions would cause an absence of the snow and ice cover in the next Milankovitch cycle, so there would be no buffer at the next peak in insolation, and temperatures would contine to rise, making the absence of snow and ice a permanent loss.
  • Brighter Sun - The sun is now much brighter than it was in the past and keeps getting brighter.
  • Methane - Due to the rapid temperature rise, there is also little or no time for methane to get decomposed. Methane levels will skyrocket, due to fires, due to decomposition of dying vegetation and due to releases from thawing of terrestrial permafrost and from the seafloor as hydrates destabilize.
  • No sequestration - The rapidity of the rise in greenhouse gases and of the associated temperature rise leaves species little or no time to adapt or move, and leaving no time for sequestration of carbon dioxide by plants and by deposits from other species, nor for formation of methane hydrates at the seafloor of oceans.
  • No weathering - The rapidity of the rise also means that weathering doesn't have a chance to make a difference. Rapid heating is dwarfing what weathering can do to reduce carbon dioxide levels. 
  • Oceans and Ozone Layer Loss - With a 3°C rise, many species including humans will likely go extinct. A 2013 post warned that, with a 4°C rise, Earth will enter a moist-greenhouse scenario. A 2018 study by Strona & Bradshaw indicates that most life on Earth would disappear with a 5°C rise. As temperatures kept rising, the ozone layer would disappear and the oceans would keep evaporating and eventually disappear into space, further removing elements and conditions that are essential to sustain life on Earth.

Paris Agreement

All this has implications for the interpretation of the Paris Agreement. At the Paris Agreement, politicians pledged to take efforts to ensure that the temperature will not exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

So, how much has the temperature risen? According to NASA data, the temperature difference between 1920 and 2020 is 1.29°C (image below). 

The NASA ocean data are for sea surface temperatures, so another 0.10°C can be added to obtain global air temperatures (2 m). Furthermore, it makes sense to add another 0.10°C for higher polar anomalies. This would bring the temperature rise from 1920 up to 1.49°C.  

Of course, 1920 is not pre-industrial. So, what are pre-industrial levels? The 'pre-' in pre-industrial means 'before', suggesting that 'pre-industrial' refers to levels as they were in times befóre (as opposed to when) the Industrial Revolution started.

When taking the rise over the past century and adding 0.30°C for the rise over the previous 170 years, that brings the rise up to 1.79°C (from ≈1750, the start of the Industrial Revolution). Carbon dioxide and methane levels started to rise markedly about 6000 years ago, causing a 0.30°C rise for the years from -3520 to 1520 (see image at top). Finally, there will also have been a rise for the years from 1520 to 1750 that, when estimated at 0.20°C, would mean that emissions by people could have caused the temperature to rise by 2.29°C (4.122°F), compared to the temperature some 5500 years ago (see inset on above image).

A huge temperature rise by 2026?

A recent post suggests that the 1.5°C threshold was already crossed in 2012, i.e. well before the Paris Agreement was adopted by the U.N. (in 2015), while there could be a temperature rise of more than 3°C by 2026.

Such a rise could be facilitated by a number of events and developments, including:

• The Arctic sea ice latent heat tipping point and the seafloor methane hydrates tipping point look set to get crossed soon (see above image).

• Continued emissions. Politicians are still refusing to take effective action, even as greenhouse gas emissions appear to be accelerating. The warming impact of carbon dioxide reaches its peak a decade after emission, while methane's impact over a few years is huge.

• Sunspots. We're currently at a low point in the sunspot cycle. As the image on the right shows, the number of sunspots can be expected to rise as we head toward 2026, and temperatures can be expected to rise accordingly. According to James Hansen et al., the variation of solar irradiance from solar minimum to solar maximum is of the order of 0.25 W/m⁻².

• Temperatures are currently also suppressed by sulfate cooling, and their impact is falling away as we progress with the necessary transition away from fossil fuel and biofuel, toward the use of more wind turbines and solar panels instead. Aerosols typically fall out of the atmosphere within a few weeks, so as the transition progresses, this will cause temperatures to rise over the next few years.

• El Niño events, according to NASA, occur roughly every two to seven years. As temperatures keep rising, ever more frequent strong El Niño events are likely to occur. NOAA anticipates the current La Niña to continue for a while, so it's likely that a strong El Niño will occur between 2023 and 2025.

• Rising temperatures can cause growth in sources of greenhouse gases and a decrease in sinks, as discussed in an earlier post.

The mass extinction event that we are currently in is rapidly progressing, even faster than the Great Permo-Triassic Extinction, some 250 million years ago, when the temperature rose to about 28°C, i.e. some 14.5°C higher than pre-industrial.

In the video below, Guy McPherson discusses the current mass extinction.

In the video below, Ye Tao introduces and discusses the MEER ReflEction idea.

In conclusion, there could be a huge temperature rise by 2026 and with a 3°C rise, humans will likely go extinct, which is a daunting prospect. Even so, the right thing to do is to help avoid the worst things from happening, through comprehensive and effective action as described in the Climate Plan.


• Climate change and ecosystem response in the northern Columbia River basin - A paleoenvironmental perspective - by Ian R. Walker and Marlow G. Pellat (2008)

• Vance, R.E. 1987. "Meteorological Records of Historic Droughts as Climatic Analogues for the Holocene." In N.A. McKinnon and G.S.L. Stuart (eds), Man and the Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum - Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Conference of the Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary. The University of Calgary Archaeological Association, Calgary: 17-32.

• Seasonal origin of the thermal maxima at the Holocene and the last interglacial - by Samantha Bova et al. (2021)

• Palaeoclimate puzzle explained by seasonal variation (2021)

• Important Climate Change Mystery Solved by Scientists (news release 2021)

• Milankovitch (Orbital) Cycles and Their Role in Earth's Climate - by Alan Buis (NASA news, 2020)

• Milankovitch cycles - Wikipedia

• Insolation changes

• Late Holocene climate: Natural or anthropogenic? - by William Ruddiman et al. (2015)

• Critical insolation–CO2 relation for diagnosing past and future glacial inception - by Andrey Ganapolski et al. (2016)

• Co-extinctions annihilate planetary life during extreme environmental change - by Giovanni Strona & Corey Bradshaw (2018)

• Earth is on the edge of runaway warming

• Paris Agreement

• IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report — Figure 2.8

• IPCC AR5 Report, Summary For Policymakers

• NASA Analysis Graphs and Plots - LSAT and SST change

• Most Important Message Ever

• Radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide: A significant revision of the methane radiative forcing - by M. Etminan et al.

• When Will We Die?

• Possible climate transitions from breakup of stratocumulus decks under greenhouse warming - by Tapio Schneider et al.

• A World Without Clouds

• How close are we to the temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere? - by Katharyn Duffy et al.

• What Carbon Budget?

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Greenhouse gas levels keep rising at accelerating rates

At the Paris Agreement in 2015, politicians pledged to limit the global temperature rise from pre-industrial levels to 1.5°C and promised to stop rises in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to make rapid reductions in accordance with best available science, to achieve a balance between people's emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century. 

Yet, greenhouse gas levels keep rising and the rise appears to be accelerating. 

Carbon Dioxide

The annual mean global growth rate of carbon dioxide (CO₂) has been increasing over the years (see above image). The February 2021 global CO₂ level was 2.96 ppm higher than the February 2020 global CO₂ level (image left).
The March 2021 global CO₂ level was 2.89 ppm higher than the March 2020 global CO₂ level (image left), again much higher than the average annual growth rate over the past decade. No discernible signal in the data was caused by restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

More recent values are available for Mauna Loa, Hawaii. As the image on the right shows, the monthly average CO₂ level at Mauna Loa was 419.13 ppm for May 2021, while the weekly average was as high as 420.01 ppm (for the week ending at May 1, 2021). 

On April 8, 2021, CO₂ levels at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, reached a level of 421.36 ppm, while several hourly averages recorded in early April were approaching 422 ppm (see earlier post).

According to NOAA, the atmospheric burden of CO₂ is now comparable to where it was during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when CO₂ was close to, or above 400 ppm. During that time, the average temperature was about 4°C (7°F) higher than in pre-industrial times, and sea level was about 24 m (78 feet) higher than today.

The 2020 global annual methane (CH₄) growth rate of 15.85 ppb was the highest on record. The global CH₄ level in January 2021 was 1893.4 ppb, 20 ppb higher than the January 2020 level. 

The image at the top shows a trend indicating that CH₄ could reach a level of 4000 ppb in 2026, which at a 1-year GWP of 200 translates into 800 ppm CO₂e, so just adding this to the current CO₂ level would cause the Clouds Tipping Point at 1200 CO₂e to be crossed, which in itself could raise global temperatures by 8°C, as described in an earlier post

Nitrous Oxide

The 2020 global annual nitrous oxide (N₂O) growth rate of 1.33 ppb was the highest on record. The global N₂O level in January 2021 was 333.9 ppb, 1.4 ppb higher than the January 2020 level. 

Greenhouse gas levels are accelerating, despite promises by politicians to make dramatic cuts in emissions. As it turns out, politicians have not taken the action they promised they would take. 

Of course, when also adding nitrous oxide, the Clouds Tipping Point can get crossed even earlier.

Elements contributing to temperature rise

Next to rising greenhouse gas levels, there are further elements that can contribute to a huge temperature rise soon. 

As illustrated by above image by Nico Sun, the accumulation of energy going into melting the sea ice is at record high for the time of year. 

As illustrated by above combination image, the thickness of the sea ice is now substantially less than it used to be. The image compares June 1, 2021 (left), with June 1, 2015 (right). 

The animation on the right shows that sea ice is getting rapidly thinner, indicating that the buffer constituted by the sea ice underneath the surface is almost gone, meaning that further heat entering the Arctic Ocean will strongly heat up the water.

As described in an earlier post, this can destabilizate methane hydrates in sediments at the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, resulting in eruption of methane from these hydrates and from methane that is located in the form of free gas underneath such hydrates. 

Such methane eruptions will first of all heat up the Arctic, resulting in loss of Arctic sea ice's ability to reflect sunlight back into space (albedo feedback), in disappearing glaciers and in rapidly thawing terrestrial permafrost (and the associated release of greenhouse gases).

The Snowball Effect

Temperatures are rising and they are rising at accelerating pace, especially in the Arctic. A strong El Niño and a distortion in the jet stream could cause the latent heat and methane hydrates tipping points to be crossed soon, causing many feedbacks to kick in with ever greater ferocity, and pushing up the global temperature beyond 3°C, 4°C and 5°C above pre-industrial, like a snowball that keeps growing in size while picking up ever more snow, as it is racing down a very steep slope.

Crossing of tipping points and further events and developments can combine with feedbacks into a snowball effect of rapidly rising temperatures.

Feedbacks include changes to the Jet Stream that result in ever more extreme weather events such as storms and forest fires. Such events can cause huge emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Temperatures can also be expected to rise over the next few years as sulfate cooling decreases. Aerosols can further cause additional warming if more black carbon and brown carbon gets emitted due to more wood getting burned and more forest fires taking place. Black carbon and brown carbon have a net warming effect and can settle on snow and ice and speed up their decline.

Therefore, the 8°C rise as a result of crossing the Clouds Tipping Point would come on top of the warming due to other elements, and the total rise could be as high as 18°C or 32.4°F from preindustrial, as ilustrated by the image on the right, from an earlier post.

Very high sea surface temperature anomalies

Meanwhile, sea surface temperatures on the Northern Hemisphere keep rising. The image below shows that sea surface temperature anomalies off the North American east coast (at the green circle) were as high as as 13.7°C (24.7°F) on June 3, 2021.

More heat is flowing from the tropics along the North American east coast toward the Arctic Ocean, carried by the Gulf Stream, as illustrated by the image on the right. 

In conclusion, there could be a huge temperature rise by 2026. 

At a 3°C rise, humans will likely go extinct, making it from some perspectives futile to speculate about what will happen beyond 2026. 

Even so, the right thing to do is to help avoid the worst things from happening, through comprehensive and effective action as described in the Climate Plan.

• NOAA: Trends in Greenhouse gases

• NOAA: Carbon dioxide peaks near 420 parts per million at Mauna Loa observatory

• Overshoot or Omnicide?
• Cryosphere Computing - by Nico Sun

• Arctic Ocean invaded by hot, salty water

• Most Important Message Ever