Earth’s annual average temperature checkup can mask a lot of the details of the climate record over the previous year, and 2021 showed that deadly heat-related climate extremes happen, even if it’s not a record-warm year.
Global average temperature isn’t always the most important measure, University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan OverpeckAfter the United States Federal agencies released the Global State of the Climate Report, 2021 was ranked sixth on the planet’s list of warmest years.
“As with politics, it is often what happens locally that matters most, and 2021 was one of the most deadly and destructive years on record because of the unusually warm atmosphere that is becoming the norm,” he said. “Extreme heat waves were exceptional in 2021, including the deadly Pacific Northwest U.S. and Canada heatwave that killed hundreds and also set the stage for fires that wiped out a whole town.”
Last year, the climate “was metaphorically shouting to us to stop the warming, because if we don’t, the warming-related climate and weather extremes will just get worse and worse, deadlier and deadlier,” he said. “Even tornadoes are now thought to strengthen as a result of the warming, and this effect probably also was the reason we had tornadoes in 2021 that reached northward into parts of Minnesota for the first time ever in December.”
According to the Pacific Northwest heat wave, it was the most extreme of a series heat extremes that seemed to have spread across the entire northern hemisphere during much of the summer. Chloe Brimicome, a climate scientist at the and a heat expert at the University of Reading.
“What really stood out for me was this period in summer, in July,” she said. “Everywhere you looked, consecutive records in many countries for temperature were being broken, day on day on day. I don’t think we’d ever really seen that before, or at least we hadn’t heard about it in the same way before.”
July 2021 ended up being the single hottest month for Earth since measurements started, and on the ninth day of the month, a thermometer at Furnace Creek, in California’s Death Valley, recorded 54.4 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit) for the second year in a row, in what could stand as the highest reliably measured temperature on record.
Near the end of July, a heat wave disrupted Tokyo Olympic Games scheduling, and less than two weeks later, on Aug. 11, a Syracuse, Sicily weather station measured Europe’s warmest-ever temperature, at 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 Fahrenheit), during Europe’s hottest summer on record. It rained at the summit, two-miles thick, of the Greenland Ice Sheet for only the second time ever, another sign that global warming is pervasive.
The year ended with a long and extreme autumn heat wave in the Western United States that contributed to Colorado’s costliest wildfire to date, and also with off-the-charts heat extremes in the European Alps, with above-freezing temperatures on the highest summits on Dec. 31.
And to reinforce that global warming doesn’t stop as the calendar year ends, 2022 started as the previous year ended, with a grain-withering heat wave in the Southern Hemisphere centered over Argentina, while farther south in Patagonia, vast tracts of forest are on fire. January 13, meteorologists reportedA preliminary reading of 50.7 degrees Celsius was taken in Australia, which tied it with the Southern Hemisphere record.
Brimicome said that, with last year’s heat extremes, it hit home that, “Oh dear, this has already started, it’s catching up with us, it’s here now.”
She added, ”We’re going to see more and more of this sort of extreme heat and extreme weather. It wasn’t a shock because that’s what had been projected, but a surprise, because it had always kind of crept up on us.”
Ocean Heat Peaks Again
The reports released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show that increasing greenhouse gas pollution has driven Earth’s annual average temperature above the pre-fossil fuel era by 1.04 degrees Celsius (1.87 degrees Fahrenheit), as measured by an 1880 to 1900 baseline. The rate of warming has increased to twice the rate in recent decades, from 0.08 degrees Celsius (0.14 Fahrenheit), at an early stage, to 0.18 degree Celsius (0.32 Fahrenheit), every decade since 1980.
Based on the most recent assessments of greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations, particularly of methane which reached another record, and studies of other important climate indicators it appears that warming could accelerate even further in the years ahead. According to climate scientists, the global annual temperature may surpass the 1.5 degree Celsius warming limit by 2023. James HansenIn his Jan. 11 monthly climate update, he wrote.
A separate study, published last week, showed that, while the planet’s globally averaged surface temperature has wobbled the past six years, the world’s oceans continued to warm steadily during that time, setting a new record each year, including 2021. That matters a lot for the climate because more than 90 percent of the sun’s heat trapped by greenhouse gases is going into the oceans, said Kevin Trenberth, a distinguished scholar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a co-author of the study.
“The ocean is where most of it goes,” he said. “If you’re tracking that over time, we should be able to match that with measurements from satellites. That would be the best indicator of total energy imbalance for the planet.”
Another measure shows that the energy imbalance is growing at a rate equal to the energy of five Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs exploding every second of each year. All of this energy is captured by the oceans. The energy manifests as heat and melts sea ice and shelves, raising sea levels, and supercharging tropical storms.
Rising ocean heat content is increasing the frequency and intensity of ocean heat waves that have killed huge areas of coral reefs across the world’s tropical oceans and shifted fish populations, threatening the food supplies of up to 3 billion people, mostly in developing countries in the global south.
It is clear that ocean heat waves are connected with heat waves and droughts over land. 2020 research showed that heat waves and droughts that start over the ocean and move over land are more intense and last longer than events that are purely land-born. Another case involved a team of researchers who studied the ecosystem details of how a 2011 heat wave over Australia impacted Australia.
Because warmer oceans are less capable of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, concerns about faster warming are also raised. According to current estimates, the oceans absorb 25 percent to 30% of human carbon dioxide emissions. Lijing ChengLed author of the ocean heat paper and associate professor at International Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of The Chinese Academy of Sciences.
That leads to ocean acidification and “reduces the efficiency of oceanic carbon uptake and leaves more carbon dioxide in the air,” which traps even more heat, he said.
Cheng said the study showed that the pattern of ocean warming “is a result of human-related changes in atmospheric composition,” adding that warmer oceans create more powerful storms and hurricanes, “as well as increasing precipitation and flood risk.”
He said that understanding the ocean-atmosphere heat transfer is crucial to implementing and tracking climate mitigation targets.
Co-author Michael MannClimate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, Dr. Jeremy Sullivan, stated that the oceans will continue to warm until net carbon emissions drop to zero.
“Aside from causing coral bleaching and threatening sea life and fish populations we rely upon for roughly 25 percent of our protein intake globally,” Mann said, ocean warming “is destabilizing Antarctic ice shelves and threatens massive (meters) of sea level rise if we don’t act. So this finding really underscores the urgency of climate action now.”
25 Countries Record Heat
Another global annual climate summary from a team of scientists with the Berkeley Earth laboratory showed that 1.8 billion people in 25 countries—about a quarter of the world’s population—experienced a record-warm annual average in 2021.
“No one lives at the global average temperature,” said Berkeley EarthScientist in charge Robert Rohde. “Most land areas will experience more warming than the global average, and countries must plan their responses to this.”
Some of the world’s most populous countries experienced their hottest years on record, including China, South Korea and Nigeria, and many of them are countries that are already very hot, including Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.
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Overall, the Berkeley team’s data showedThe greenhouse gases cause global warming to be widespread, as expected.
In 2021, 87 percent of Earth’s surface was significantly warmer compared to a 1951-1980 baseline, with 11 percent of the surface at a similar temperature, and only 2.6 percent significantly colder. The overall warming trend is also evident in the absence of extreme cold, as the team reported that there was no record-breakingly cold place on Earth.
A building level of greenhouse gases from human activities “is the direct cause of recent global warming,” Rohde said. “If the Paris Agreement’s goal of no more than 2 degrees Celsius warming is to be reached, significant progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions needs to be made soon.”
Brimicome, a researcher on extreme heat, suggested that the 2021 climate extremes may be a sign of a wider acceptance of climate change.
“I think we’ve always had these rose-tinted glasses toward it, like yes, climate change is happening, but it’s not going to happen to me,” she said. “We need to take off those glasses and be realistic about what’s happening. Although part of our brain is telling us it can’t be true, it is completely in front of us. If we continue with this narrative, even like I did, that we’re surprised and shocked, it’s kind of like saying it’s not real. But it is real.”
Source: Inside Climate News