Thoughts on the ocean, the environment, the universe and everything from nearly a mile high.

Panorama of The Grand Tetons From the top of Table Mountain, Wyoming © Alan Holyoak, 2011

Monday, September 24, 2012

Is the house on fire? Indications of climate change - 2012

I'm not an alarmist, but there are times to be alarmed - like when your house is on fire, or when you see the headlong approach of unswerving headlights.

When it comes to global climate, is the house on fire?

Record-settting number of high temperature records

The most recent data I could find on daily temperature records in the USA was from July 2012.  According to the National Climate Data Center, there were 23,283 new record high temperatures set across the United States from Jan-July 2012.

There are also some other troubling data and scenarios out there.

In mid-July a compelling article on climate change and current weather and climate patterns by Bill McKibben appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine.  You can read it in its entirety by clicking the link below.

Building on data presented in that article we are now entering the 329th consecutive month with average temperatures above the 20th century average.  Yes, you read that right...329th month...that's nearly 27.5 years where EVERY month's average was above the 1900-1999 average temperature.  Now it is expected that any set of data from a natural system would include variability - year to year rainfall totals, temperature fluctuations, your heart rate, your annual body mass fluctuations, etc.  But when we see over 27 years of monthly average temperature data above the average of that for an entire century of temperature readings, we should probably sit up and think about what's going on.

If temperature fluctuations were behaving completely randomly, with no long-term temperature increase or decrease, we would predict that a given month's average temperature has a 50% chance (probability = 0.5) of being above average.  The chances of two consecutive months being above average would be 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.25 (= a 25% chance of happening by random chance alone).  So, what are the odds of observing 329 consecutive months with average temperatures above the 1900-1999 average temperature by random chance alone?  to get the answer to this question you need to multiply 0.5 by itself 329 times.  The answer is, according to the Rolling Stone article 3.7 x 10^-99.  That means that there is a 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000037% chance of that happening by random chance alone.  That's such a small likelihood of happening that it's time to look for things that could be driving that other than random chance.

The prime suspect?  A trend of global climate change, i.e., global warming.

The total global average temperature hasn't increased all that much so far in the past 100 years or so...only 0.8oC.  And if we are seeing significant changes with only this small change in global temperature, what could happen when we reach 2oC?  - the projected limit that we could reach without incurring MAJOR global environmental and ecological effects?

BTW, climate models suggest that the atmosphere-ocean-earth system may be able to accommodate the emission of another 595 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere before we reach the 2oC mark.  But guess what?  The cumulative proven reserves of fossil fuels currently controlled by energy companies and countries with nationalized mining and extraction = 2,795 gigatons of fossil fuel.  That's just the fossil fuel that we know about.  That's 5x the total we can emit before hitting the 2oC mark.

Are there other indicators are there that climate is shifting?  Check out some of my other postings.

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