How much warmer is it now?
26 November, 2014
The IPCC appears to be strongly downplaying the amount of global warming that has already occurred and that looks set to eventuate over the next decade or so, according to a leaked draft of the IPCC 'Special Report on 1.5°C above pre-industrial'. The 'First Order Draft of the Summary for Policy Makers' estimates that the global mean temperature reached approximately 1°C above pre-industrial levels around 2017/2018.
Let's go over the numbers step by step, by following the image below line by line (click on the image to enlarge it).
NASA's data for the two most recent years for which data are available (2016/2017) show a warming of 0.95°C when using a baseline of 1951-1980 and a warming of 1.23°C when using a baseline of 1890-1910 (left map on image below). In other words, using this earlier baseline results in an additional 0.28°C rise. When using an even earlier baseline, i.e. 1750 or preindustrial, it could be 1.53°C warmer, as discussed in an earlier post.
In other words, merely changing the baseline to preindustrial, as agreed to at the Paris Agreement, can show that we're already above the 1.5°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should not cross.
There's more! As a recent publication points out, most methods that calculate the global temperature use sea surface temperatures. However, doesn't it make more sense to calculate the temperature of the air just above the sea surface?
Measuring air temperature at the surface is done in the case of temperatures over land, where one doesn't measure the temperature of the soil or rocks when telling people how warm it is. Since air surface temperatures are slightly higher than sea surface temperatures, the result of looking at air surface temperatures across the globe would be a temperature that is approximately 0.1°C warmer. Furthermore, many areas in the Arctic may not have been adequately reflected in the global temperature, e.g. because insufficient data were available. Since the Arctic has been warming much faster than the rest of the world, inclusion of those areas would add another 0.1°C to the rise. Adding this to the above 1.53°C rise makes that it's already 1.73°C (or 3.11°F) warmer than preindustrial.
Another question is over what period measurements should be taken when assessing whether thresholds have been crossed. When focusing on temperatures during specific months, the rise could be much higher than the annual average. So, does it make more sense to look at a monthly peak rather than at a long-term average?
When building a bridge and when calculating what load the bridge should be able to handle, it makes sense to look at peak traffic and at times when a lot of heavy trucks happen to be on the bridge. That makes a lot more sense than only looking at the average weight of cars driving over the bridge during a period of - say - one, two or thirty years.
Accordingly, the right panel of the top image shows numbers for February 2016 when temperature anomalies were particularly high. When looking at this monthly anomaly, we are already 2.37°C (or 4.27°F) above preindustrial, i.e. well above the 2°C guardrail that the Paris Agreement had pledged we should definitely not cross.
Should the temperature rise be calculated using a longer period? The IPCC appears to have arrived at its temperature rise estimate by using an extrapolation or near term predictions of future warming so that the level of anthropogenic warming is reported for a 30 year period centered on today.
The image below, from an earlier post, shows global warming for a 30-year period centered on January 2018, using NASA 2003 to January 2018 LOTI anomalies from 1951-1980, adjusted by 0.59°C to cater for the rise from preindustrial to 1951-1980, and with a polynomial trend added.
Above image illustrates the importance of what's going to happen next. The temperature rise up until now may well be dwarfed by what's yet to come and the outlook may well be even worse than what the above trend suggests. The image below, from an earlier post, shows how the rise from 2016 to 2026 could take place twice as fast as above trend, due to the combined impact of the warming elements listed in the left box of the image below.
Meanwhile, the rise in carbon dioxide levels appears to be accelerating, as illustrated by the images below.
Indeed, despite pledges made at the Paris Agreement to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial, the rise in CO₂ since preindustrial, i.e. 1750, still appears to be accelerating.
On March 18, 2018, the sea surface temperature near Svalbard (at the green circle) was 16.7°C or 62.1°F, i.e. 14.7°C or 26.4°F warmer than the daily average during the years 1981-2011.
On March 30, 2018, methane levels as high as 2624 parts per billion were recorded.
The situation is dire and calls for comprehensive and effective action, as described in the Climate Plan.
• Climate Plan
• How much warming have humans caused?
• IPCC seeks to downplay global warming
• 2016 well above 1.5°C
• Interpretations of the Paris climate target, by Andrew Schurer et al.