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An Illustrated Guide to Climate Change in 2011

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"An Illustrated Guide to Climate Change in 2011"


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A few simple and clear pictures (and links) showing how the planet continued to warm and change around us in 2011

by Peter Gleick, water and climate scientist, in a Forbes repost

These facts are just part of why all national academies of science on the planet and every major geophysical scientific society agree that humans are fundamentally changing the climate.

CO2 in the atmosphere continues its inexorable rise

The heart of the climate problem is that our burning of fossil fuels along with other human activities have thrown the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases out of balance, and their concentration in the atmosphere is growing faster and faster. This classic record from Mauna Loa in Hawai’i shows the growth in the CO2 concentration in the past half century. But it’s worse than that: CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere are now higher than at any time in the past million years, and perhaps higher than in the past 15 million years.

The concentration of carbon dioxide is higher today than in a million years.
Higher concentrations of greenhouse gases leads to a hotter planet

As CO2 (and other heat-trapping gas) concentrations have risen, so have planetary temperatures, just as basic physics and models predict. Here are the land and ocean surface temperatures for the past 130 years as measured by scientists at NASA (first figure) and NOAA/NCDC (second figure), confirmed by independent scientists internationally. While temperatures go up and down, the long-term trend is indisputably up. 2011 was the 35th consecutive year since 1976 that the yearly global temperature was above average. La Niña cooled the global average temperature in 2011 by quite a bit, but it was still abnormally hot. Indeed, 2011 was the hottest “La Niña” year ever recorded.

A hotter planet means an intensification of the hydrological cycle

One of the consequences of global warming, predicted from basic physics and models, is more water in the atmosphere and more rainfall globally (with increases in both wet and dry extremes). And observations of the real worldhave shown these projections to be happening.

Globally, 2011 was the 2nd wettest year over land on record since 1900 (and the wettest year was just one year earlier: 2010). Drier than average conditions were widespread across much of French Polynesia, the Solomon Islands, Hawaiian Islands, northwestern Canada, and southwestern China. The wettest regions included much of Central America, Micronesia, northern Brazil, and the northeastern U.S.

A hotter planet means disappearing glaciers and ice, especially in the Arctic.

Ice in the Arctic continues to thin and disappear, even faster than anticipated. Arctic sea ice extent during September 2011 (the month when ice is at a minimum) was nearly 35 percent below the 1979-2000 average — the second smallest September Arctic sea ice extent since precise records began in 1979,according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. And it wasn’t just September: overall, 2011 Arctic ice extent (that bottom blue line) was far below the long-term average for every single month.

The extent of Arctic ice in 2011 was lower, in every single month, than the long-term average.

A warming planet also means more extremes of climate.

Anyone watching or reading the news or looking out the window probably had a sense that 2011 was a weird year with one bad, extreme weather disaster after another. It was. As the climate changes, scientists anticipate more extremes, and the reality around us confirms that. Here are two graphs: the first from NOAA shows the fraction of the United States in either extreme drought or extreme flood over the past century: 2011 had the highest fraction ever recorded – nearly 60% of the country. The second, also from NOAA, shows that 2011 had the largest number of weather/climate disaster events exceeding a billion dollars ever – 14 of them, even adjusting for inflation.

– Peter Gleick is a member of the National Academy of Sciences


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7 Responses to An Illustrated Guide to Climate Change in 2011

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    Outstanding post, as always from Peter.

    I’m also delighted to see the “Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index” graphic. Whenever I hear one of the pathetic denier “arguments” about how warming is caused by the sun or it’s some imaginary cycle with a period of a few decades, I like to counter with that graphic.

  2. BillD says:

    Since Forbes tends to publish of-the-wall anti-science, it’s a good step forward that a real scientist, especially one of Dr. Gleick’s stature, was able to post on Forbes.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Wired has been crappy for a long time. Like other once fresh outlets such as Huffpost and LA Times, they succumbed long ago to the relentless pressure of the corporate fossil fuel and banking crowd.

    There is no hope for them, and bad media brands such as Wired need to be called out and bypassed. We need to look to other places, even if the writing is marginal for a while. Progressives’ support will eventually nudge them toward quality.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    You keep on giving us the picture that things will start to improve as soon as we cut back on carbon dioxide emissions. Wrong, if we stopped polluting today the problem would quickly get worse. Our pollution is dimming the skies, masking about half the effect of the CO2 back radiation.

    Add a solar maximum and the next big El Nino and be afraid.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    Al Gore’s – An Inconvenient Truth (2006) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGLOyPnsgZI