“The 400 is a reminder that our emissions are not only continuing, but they’re accelerating; that’s a scary thing. We’re stuck. We’re going to keep going up.”
—James Butler, director of global monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Science Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado
We knew it was coming. But only two days after I posted that it was expected we’d cross the threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) for carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, that threshold happened. Last year, 400 ppm was recorded at a few remote stations in some northern countries, but this was the first time that Mauna Loa’s station in Hawaii recorded such a level since Roger Revelle and Charles David Keeling began taking measurements in back in 1958. This has been confirmed by two independent bodies: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Scripps Institute.
And just so the significance isn’t lost, allow me to spell it out bluntly: this is the first time in all of human history that our atmosphere has had carbon dioxide levels of 400 ppm. Continue reading
“I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain.”
The fire season for 2013 has already started in earnest. Last week more than 8,000 acres were scorched in California. Fifteen homes have been damaged which is fortunately a rather low number, but hundreds of people living in Ventura County had to evacuate.
None of this should come as any surprise. Much to the chagrin of skeptics and deniers, climate change is already upon us and events like this are part and parcel. In California, they’ve had particularly dry conditions—I won’t describe them as unusual because sadly this is becoming the norm—as well as stronger Santa Ana winds usually reserved for the autumn months, and record low rainfalls. This year, the downtown region of Los Angeles has had only two inches of rain so far when the usual amount used to be eleven inches by the month of May. California has had to contend with 680 wildfires this season, while the average used to be only 200.
And it’s only going to get worse. NASA predicts that in the coming decades, the wet areas of our planet are going to get wetter, and the dry are going to get drier. Continue reading
“The prospects of keeping climate change below that (2-degree goal) are fading away.”
—Pieter Tans, leader of the greenhouse gas measurement team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
From the Bad News Department, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the goal of keeping global warming to less than two degrees Celsius is nearly impossible.
Why? Well, for one thing we’d need to see a levelling off or ideally a decline in the rate of rise in carbon dioxide levels year to year. Not a decline in actual levels mind you—which would be ideal if we could ever see that occur—but rather a decline in the rate of rise.
Baby steps first, let’s see some brakes applied to global emissions. Then we can tackle putting this baby in reverse.
But alas, it’s not meant to be. Continue reading
“We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see.”
—Colm Sweeney, head of the aircraft programme at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado
The chemistry of carbon is fascinating and complex. In fact it gets its own branch of chemistry: organic chemistry. (Truth be told, if I hadn’t gone into medicine, organic chemistry was where I was headed.) All non-carbon chemistry is considered inorganic chemistry. The combustion of carbon and carbon-containing products (such as hydrocarbons which are what fossil fuels are made up of) follow some very straightforward laws of science. Continue reading
“…2012 has been the warmest calendar year on record for the continental U.S. according to NCDC data going back to 1895. The final actual average temperature for the year has yet to be tallied but as of Dec. 1st stood at 57.06°F (13.92°C), well above the previous record for the same time period (first 11 months of the year) of 56.05°F (13.36°C) set in 1934. What was truly astonishing, however, was the ratio of heat records versus cold records that was established over the course of the year.”
—Christopher C. Burt, weather historian
Christopher C. Burt, weather historian and author of the book Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book has written an interesting post on the website Weather Underground. He’s taken data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA)’s National Climatic Data Center and demonstrated some remarkable—albeit not completely unexpected—findings. What should come as no surprise to anyone is that 2012 was the hottest year in the contiguous US ever recorded since accurate records started to be kept in 1895.
What was even more interesting to see was to see the large number of temperature records that were broken. A total of 362 all-time record highs were broken last year—the vast majority of them coming during the summer months—but not one all-time low was broken. Continue reading