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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #25B

Posted on 21 June 2015 by John Hartz

2015 is likely to beat 2014 as the warmest year on record

The Earth just had its warmest May on record, hottest spring and mildest year-to-date, according to new data released Thursday. The climate statistics indicate the year is on course to set another milestone for the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous warmest year, set in 2014.

The data, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), also bolsters the clarion call for climate action released by Pope Francis, since they are a sign of longterm warming caused by human activities, scientists said.

According to NOAA, May was not only the warmest such month on record, globally, coming at 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, but it also blew away the old record by 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit. The old record was set just last year, indicating that 2015 is running hotter than 2014. (Typically, these records are exceeded by smaller margins of 0.1 or 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit.)

2015 is likely to beat 2014 as the warmest year on record by Andrew Freedman, Mashable, June 18, 2015

Alaska’s climate hell: Record heat, wildfires and melting glaciers signal a scary new normal

Here’s the immediate problem: Alaska is on fire. Wildfires have been raging all week in the northernmost state: two major ones are currently being fought near the communities of Sterling (#CardStreetFire) and Willow (#Sockeyefire), while more than fifty smaller blazes are demanding firefighting crews’ attention across the state. The Card Street fire exploded in size Thursday evening: at 12,000 acres, it’s officially the nation’s top wildfire priority.

The sheer number of fires, said Pete Buist, a spokesman for the state Division of Forestry, “in Alaska terms is not the end of the world” — 2004, which saw a record 6.7 million acres burn, demonstrated just how catastrophe the state’s wildfire season has the potential to get.

But crews have been preparing for a season marked by unusually hot, dry weather — and following a winter marked by below-average snowfall — that can exacerbate the blazes. Any associations you might have with Alaska being a generally chilly place, actually, were belied by last month’s heat wave: with average temperatures 7.1 degrees above normal, the state had its hottest May in 91 years of record-keeping. Here, via NASA’s Earth Observatory, is what that deviation looked like:

Alaska’s climate hell: Record heat, wildfires and melting glaciers signal a scary new normal by Lindsay Abrams, Salon, June 19, 2015

For faithful, social justice goals demand action on environment

For an earnest young Christian named Ben Lowe, revelation came on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in Africa. A relentless warming of the lake was reducing the catch of fish, the people were going hungry — and he had learned of scientific evidence that climate change was to blame.

For the Rev. Brian Sauder, who grew up attending a small Anabaptist church in rural Illinois, the moment came in a college classroom. Studying the fallout from environmental degradation, he learned of poor people who had to walk hours longer each day to gather firewood from depleted forests.

For both men, Christian duties that their upbringing had led them to regard as separate — taking care of the earth and taking care of the poor — merged into a morally urgent problem. “Why haven’t I ever made this connection before?” Mr. Sauder recalled asking himself.

It is a connection that many people of faith all over the world are starting to make.

For Faithful, Social Justice Goals Demand Action on Environment by Justin Gillis, New York Times, June 20, 2015

How climate-change doubters lost a papal fight

Pope Francis was about to take a major step backing the science behind ­human-driven global warming, and Philippe de Larminat was determined to change his mind.

A French doubter who authored a book arguing that solar activity — not greenhouse gases — was driving global warming, de Larminat sought a spot at a climate summit in April sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Nobel laureates would be there. So would U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs and others calling for dramatic steps to curb carbon emissions.

After securing a high-level meeting at the Vatican, he was told that, space permitting, he could join. He bought a plane ticket from Paris to Rome. But five days before the April 28 summit, de Larminat said, he received an e-mail saying there was no space left. It came after other scientists — as well as the powerful Vatican bureaucrat in charge of the academy — insisted he had no business being there.

“They did not want to hear an off note,” de Larminat said.

How climate-change doubters lost a papal fight by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environmnet, June 20, 2015

Renewable revolution rising, but ultimate potential remains untapped

While it was a record year for global warming, 2014 was also a banner year for the technologies that could help mitigate climate change.

"Spectacular" growth in the global renewable energy sector helped stave off increased greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, according to the 10th annual Renewables 2015 Global Status Report, released Thursday by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21).

In fact, the report states, the rise of solar, wind, and other renewable technologies has helped effect a "landmark decoupling" of economic growth and carbon emissions—as the International Energy Agency indicated earlier this year. For the first time in four decades, REN21 explains, the world economy grew in 2014 without a parallel rise in CO2 emissions. 

Renewable Revolution Rising, But Ultimate Potential Remains Untapped by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams, Junw 19, 2015

Satellites find less groundwater left

Groundwater supplies around the world are scanter than previously thought and are depleting fast in many places, according to a set of two studies published yesterday online in Water Resources Research.

Groundwater is the primary water source for about 2 billion people worldwide. But estimates of supplies are based on rough estimates of withdrawals and deposits, and as such, are all over the map.

“It is absolutely insane that we do not know how much water we have in the world’s major aquifers, and that the range of estimates is so great that the numbers are effectively meaningless,” said study co-author Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Satellites Find Less Groundwater Left by Debra Kahn, ClimateWire/Scientific American, June 17, 2015

Weak climate plans set to overshoot world temperature goal

Countries' current pledges for greenhouse gas cuts will fail to achieve a peak in energy-related emissions by 2030 and likely result in a temperature rise of 2.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the International Energy Agency said on Monday.

An international deal to combat climate change is meant to be agreed in December but a meeting in Bonn, Germany, last week ended with little progress toward an agreement to keep average temperature rises within 2C.

The proposed emissions cuts from 2020 offered by governments so far are unlikely to meet the 2C goal, a threshold scientists say is the limit beyond which the world will suffer ever worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas. 

Weak climate plans set to overshoot world temperature goal by Nina Chestney, Reuters/Scientific American, June 15, 2015

Why wind and solar power are such a challenge for energy grids

Last week, I described a modeling study showing that it is possible to run the entire US economy on renewable energy: wind, water, and solar power. Technologically, the tools are available. Economically, the total system costs would be lower than a business-as-usual scenario. But politically, the plan is wildly ambitious, to the point of fantasy.

Among other things, it would require that policy and investment decisions be approached holistically, coordinated across multiple sectors, and made on the basis of multidecadal cost-benefit horizons, with enormous upfront investments paying off in health and climate benefits that unfold over decades.

That is not the way humans typically approach big challenges. Engineers aren't granted the power to redesign large systems from scratch. Energy is not just a physical system, it's a social and political system too, and social and political change is unpredictable and messy. It lurches and stalls. Progress, when it comes, is often kludged, backward-looking, and incumbent-protecting. It's a fallen world we live in, but we muddle through.

Why wind and solar power are such a challenge for energy grids by David Roberts, Vox, June 19, 2015

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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. In the 3rd paragraph, do you mean:  (Typically, when exceeded, these records are exceeded by smaller margins of only 0.01 or 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit.)

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  2. I agree with Tor B that there must be a typo there. Also, I'm having trouble finding the NOAA data being referenced. Does NOAA have something equivalent to this NASA GISS data page?

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  3. While world is getting ready for Paris COP, Australia is going backwards with their renewable energy:

    Renewable energy target slashed

    The government believes the reduced target will address an oversupply of energy in the market and save consumers from possible price hikes had the larger target not been reached.

    That's the most silly explanation I've seen for so far. When something is in oversupply, the prices should actually drop, at least on a free market that I know. What kind of marketting force prompts OZ gov to conclude such  explanation that does not make any sense?

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  4. gregbcharles@2,

    The NOAA data is available here.

    The presentation is a little quirky. The default is set up to compare the month from any year to the same month from previous years. However, in the Timescale options the last choice "Year-to-Date" will only plot the year to date in the bar-chart but the table below the chart will show all the monthly data from the Start Year value.

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  5. With respect to "Weak Climate Plans"

    I do think that as long as RSS and UAH show little to no warming, and Drs. Roy Spencer and John Christy are spreading the message that there really is no warming, because "Satellite data is more reliable than massaged surface data based on spread out urban heat island affected information" that the "Weak Climate Plans" will rule the day.  I'm amazed how many people are hanging their hat on only what satellite data says, and particularly as it is presented in ways that minimize warming.  It's a hard message to refute.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Tilt! Your assertions are totally bogus. Insert "Spencer ad Christy" into the SkS search box, press enter, and start reading.

  6. knaugle, if surface thermometer readings are "massaged" then satellite 'temperature' data is the result of reconstructive surgery. It is based on non-temperature readings far above the planet's surface which require extensive computations to turn into temperature estimates. Thus, not really 'hard to refute' at all.

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  7. knaugle...  That may be a short lived position they're taking with the current developing El Nino since the satellite data tend to respond strongly to El Nino events.

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  8. @Moderator
    These are not my assertions.  I think you misread what I was saying.  Rather I get frustrated at other people claiming these things.  I need only read about Dr. Christy's testimony to Sen. Inhofe's committee a while back to suspect he plays fast and loose with the facts when it suits him.  I am not wrong in stating there are a lot of people claiming we aren't warming, because satellite data is "relible" and shows no warming for nearly 20 years, and that surface data isn't worth much.  I rather doubt that is a bogus assertion on my part.

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  9. @Dunkerson and Hunneycutt

    I agree with both of you.  I am of the opinion that were I to live on the top of Pike's Peak, say 14,000 feet above sea level, I might rely much more on satellite data for my climate opinions, since that is about the mid-point of the lower troposphere.  However I live in Virginia, and more like 800 feet altitude.  Still, I think you cannot make a "reconstructive surgery" claim because satellite data isn't showing the warming you want, any more than others can make the "urban heat island and filling in the blank spots" claim because surface data is showing more warming than they want to see.  In the same sense that the scientific truism that "all models are inaccurate, but many models are useful" is correct, both surface temperature data and satellite data is useful when used properly and with the political bias filtered out.  What I have trouble finding is a credible discussion of the limitations of the various data.  I can find a LOT of politically biased claims attacking each respective set.  That said, I have more respect for what NOAA and NASA say than I do what Spencer and Christy say.

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  10. You could also take a peek at what Dr Carl Mears at RSS says about the differences between surface temps and satellite data.

    As a data scientist, I am among the first to acknowledge that all climate datasets likely contain some errors. However, I have a hard time believing that both the satellite and the surface temperature datasets have errors large enough to account for the model/observation differences. For example, the global trend uncertainty (2-sigma) for the global TLT trend is around 0.03 K/decade (Mears et al. 2011). Even if 0.03 K/decade were added to the best-estimate trend value of 0.123 K/decade, it would still be at the extreme low end of the model trends. A similar, but stronger case can be made using surface temperature datasets, which I consider to be more reliable than satellite datasets (they certainly agree with each other better than the various satellite datasets do!). So I don’t think the problem can be explained fully by measurement errors.

    [emphasis added]

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  11. Knaugle,

    I think that you have a point.  However, I do not think that real scientists can do anything about Spencer and Christy misleading the public.  The people in congress who invited them to testify got what they wanted.

    Surveys indicate that most people now think that warming is real and a little more than half of people realize that humans are at fault for the increasing temperature.  As Alaska burns, California drys up, Pakistan and India drop dead and a new temperature record is set this year more people will realize that AGW really is a problem.  Hopefully they will identify the problem and ask for solutions sonner rather than later.

    I teach High School.  Over the past 8 years I have seen a dramatic decrease in skeptics in my classes.  Hopefully we will soon see a dramatic increase in those who insist on action.

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  12. Knaugle @ 9.

    You may benefit from reviewing the SkS detailed presentation regarding Satellite Data here. There is a significant amount of manipulation of information required to produce 'satellite temperature data'. That is basis for suggesting it is like reconstructive surgery. It appears to be far more complex and prone to fault than the required adjustments of surface temperature data. For one thing, the weather balloon data of the upper atmosphere temperatures that can be used to correlate the satellite data manipulations with are rather sparse.

    Satellite data may eventually become more reliable. However, the Free Mass Open Online Course (indicated at the top right of the home page), includes a very good presentation explaining why the surface temperature will show warming due to increased CO2 while the higher atmosphere will have less warming as the increased CO2 keeps more heat at the surface.

    I hope that helps.

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