Greenland Finally Lives Up to its Name

Last Thursday, the capital of Greenland reached a record 75° Fahrenheit. To put that in context, that was hotter than it was in New York City that same day. It was also the highest temperature ever recorded in Greenland during the month of June.

What’s extra scary about this? Keep in mind that Greenland is covered in enough ice that if it all melts it will raise global sea level by more than 20 feet.

May was the hottest May globally on record. At the poles the temperature deviation was as much as 17°F (9.4°C) above the 1951-1980 average for the month. This might just be an anomalous month if it wasn’t for the outstanding fact that the hottest May followed the hottest April, March, February and January. Despite the fact that 2015 was the hottest year we ever recorded, NASA predicts that we have a 99 percent chance that 2016 will break that record.

Some parts of Greenland are feeling the extremes quite dramatically. NASA has stated that some parts of Greenland were 36°F (20°C) hotter than “normal.” And to be fair, NASA now defines normal based on the 2001–2010 average, and not the usual 1951-1980 normal it used to compare to. That means this deviation was already on top of a century of warming thanks to our fossil-fuel-burning behaviours.

The record temperatures this month have led to an unusually high ice melt covering almost half of Greenland’s ice sheet. Greenland contains the second-largest amount of land-locked ice in the world, after Antarctica. If it all melts, it will raise sea levels by 20 feet. (Sell your Manhattan apartment and your Miami condo while you still have time.)

So let’s start preparing for the circumstances we’ve created for our planet. We have no one to blame but ourselves. For a long time we didn’t know any better. But we can’t use that excuse any longer.

2016 Starts Breaking Records Already

NASA has released a report that Earth just experienced the hottest first quarter (January to March) ever on record. The previous record (which was held by 2015) was beaten by 0.7°F (0.39°C). Historically, such records spanning months are broken by mere hundredths of a degree.

This really shouldn’t be too surprising, however. Just look at the trend our planet is going through:

  • March 2016 was the hottest March on record
  • February 2016 was the hottest February on record
  • January 2016 was the hottest January on record
  • December 2015 was the hottest December on record
  • November 2015 was the hottest November on record
  • October 2015 was the hottest October on record

Can you see the pattern?

2015 was our hottest year ever, having beaten 2014. But at this rate as the El Niño e’ve been experiencing gradually disappears, we can anticipate that 2016 will beat the record yet again. But it’s not all due to the El Niño because the records being broken are blowing the previous El Niño years out of the water. The underlying trend of a warming planet is undeniable. El Niño is simply icing on the cake.

Now if only we would do something about it.

Astronauts See The World Better Than Everyone Else

“I feel more of an environmentalist. There are definitely areas where the Earth is covered with pollution almost all the time.”
—Astronaut Scott Kelly

Scott Kelly, an American astronaut came back to Earth last week after almost one year on the International Space Station (ISS), the longest for any American. (Canada’s Chris Hadfield spent nearly half a year of his life as the ISS commander a couple of years ago, the longest any Canadian has spent in space.) During Kelly’s extended time off our planet, he had ample opportunity to see Earth from a vantage point very get to experience with their own eyes. Just like Hadfield, he shared his experiences on social media gaining him a Twitter fan base of almost one million followers. And just like Hadfield, Kelly’s unique perspective has allowed him to realize just how fragile our planet is, and why we have to do what we can to protect it.

As Kelly put it in his last press conference before coming home:

The more I look at Earth and certain parts of Earth the more I feel more of an environmentalist. There are definitely areas where the Earth is covered with pollution almost all the time. And it’s not good for any of us. There are weather systems that I’ve seen while I was up here that were places that were unexpected. Storms bigger than we’ve seen in the past. And this is a human effect. You can tell that that is not a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Kelly managed to witness some extreme weather including the strongest storm we’ve ever observed on our planet, Hurricane Patricia in October 2015. He also saw the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Winston just last month. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to chalk these extremes all up to coincidence.

He also got to see how polluted our planet has become:

There are definitely parts of Asia, Central America that when you look at them from space, you’re always looking through a haze of pollution. As far as the atmosphere is concerned, and being able to see the surface, you know, I would say definitely those areas that I mentioned look kind of sick.

According to a study published in Nature, air pollution has killed more than three million people on Earth while Kelly was on the ISS. As much as seventeen percent of all deaths in China are attributed to air pollution.

This kind of environmental epiphany that Kelly has experienced is nothing new for people who get to experience his perspective. As Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University put it:

[Kelly’s] evolution as an environmentalist seems to mirror the experiences of Carl Sagan, whose concern about our environment and environmental sustainability was a natural outgrowth of his love of cosmology, planetary science, and space exploration.

Chris Hadfield had a similar experience. In his words:

We just need to be more responsible in the decisions we make and think of the longer term, more than five years, more than the upcoming elections, more than just one lifespan, and think about our grandchildren and even further.

It’s a shame that we might need to leave the planet to appreciate how important it is to protect it.

October Was Hot!

“Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from The Eternal.”
Dante Alighieri

Sorry to sound like a broken record with all these broken records but October was one hot month globally. How hot was it? Try these facts on for size:

  • It was the hottest October ever in the 135-year temperature record of NASA
  • It was the hottest October ever in the 125-year temperature record of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)
  • It was the highest deviation from the mean temperature for any month ever recorded in the 1,600-month temperature record of NASA
  • It contributed to breaking the record yet again for the hottest consecutive twelve months ever recorded

These facts help put the final nails in the coffin for anyone still clinging to the hope that global warming stopped back in 1998. And why is it so hot lately? Because a) there’s an underlying long-term global warming trend as a result of our own greenhouse gas emissions with no other plausible scientific explanation for that gradual trend, and b) it’s being potentiated by an additional short-term warming caused by a particularly strong El Niño this year. The last big El Niño was the 1997-1998 season. That’s what made 1998 such an outlier year above the gradual trend back then. When the next few years didn’t continue to warm from there but rather fell back to the overall gradual trend, many people, particularly those who didn’t want to believe global warming was happening—like industries dependent on fossil fuels and politicians who are funded by those industries—claimed the warming had stopped. This El Niño may well be even bigger than the one back in 1997-1998, in which case we’re about to see some records shattered. This marked deviation form October’s normal average temperature may just be a glimpse of things to come.

These last twelve months have been the hottest consecutive twelve months in recorded history, and this record keeps breaking month-to-month. Say what you want to the contrary (I’m talking to you Ted Cruz), but the facts speak for themselves. There’s only about a one percent chance that 2015 won’t be the hottest calendar year ever recorded, and something extremely dramatic and unpredictable would have to happen for that to occur. (Like a once-in-a-century volcanic eruption; we’re less likely to be struck by an asteroid but I suppose it’s always possible.)

And because of the added heat contribution from El Niño, 2016 has a very good chance of being hotter still.

2015: Still On Track To Be the Hottest Year Ever

NASA’s data are in and January 1 through to September 30 is the hottest year on record for the first nine months of a calendar year ever recorded. This has been a recurrent theme for many months now, and sadly we haven’t seen a month come along that is at all cooler than average to help balance this out. We haven’t even seen a month that’s average. (And Ted Cruz is still talking about a global warming pause? How does anyone ignore facts like that?)

But last month wasn’t the hottest September ever. It was only the second hottest. Last year’s September was the hottest ever, but sadly this second place September is no sign that global warming is pausing.

Why so hot? We have this gradual long-term global warming trend, mostly as a result of our human activities. And this year it’s being strengthened by the strongest El Niño since the one from 1997-1998. That was the outlier year that allowed deniers and skeptics to argue the variability year-to-year ever since was evidence of a pause. Lately that argument doesn’t hold water as records are being blown through the roof.

And already October is starting out to be warmer than average for this time of year. NASA estimates it’s now less than one percent chance that 2015 won’t be the hottest year we’ve ever documented.

NASA data disproves a pause in global warming quite clearly. To be fair, the rate of warming has been more constant rather than accelerating as some predicted, but it’s still warming and some still predict the acceleration is coming. But this El Niño is going to continue for some time so don’t be surprised if 2016 beats 2015 for the hottest year.

I wish the news was better, but facts are facts. Even if some Republicans choose to ignore them.