Temperature Impacts & Carbon Dioxide

Having looked in Part 1 at the frequency and size of extreme weather events, we now need to look at temperatures to see if any changes there also suggest a warming world, and then at changes induced by changing temperatures. The most logical thing to look at is temperature itself, but while we are conventionally shown the mean global temperature chart since about 1850 (which is below), why don’t we first consider what high and low temperature records are being broken? After all, if we have a warmer climate, high records might be being broken.

Temperature

World High Temperature Records – set in 2010

Russia – near the Caspian Saudi Arabia Sudan
Russia – near Vladivostok Pakistan Niger
Iraq Kuwait Myanmar
Qatar (world cup football venue) Belarus Cyprus
Chad Finland Ukraine

And now the low temperatures and guess what? Look at where they were:

World Low Temperature Records – set in 2010

Cumbria N Ireland  

There were 15 record highs covering much of the planet and only 2 record lows but these lows were here and maybe caused by the warmer world. Perhaps I should explain the possible connection but so often with climate it is neither simple nor does what the weather does appear logical.

[In the warming Arctic there is now about 6M sq kms less summer sea ice; the additional 6M sq kms of ocean surface absorbs much more of the sun's heat than the ice it replaces, so the Arctic is much warmer through autumn and early winter. This produces a warm air mass over the Polar region; causing a high pressure area; so the winds blow from the Pole rather than to it - which makes us very cold. Of course, the warmer the Arctic the more ice melts; the more ocean there is; the warmer it gets, and even more ice melts. It is that dramatic as time will show, but the Jet Stream has also moved to pass south of the UK bringing those Polar winds right through us].

However if we take the decade from 2000 to 2010, there were 29 high records and only 5 lows [which apart from the 2 in the UK were in East Antarctica, on an Andean pass in Argentina and in Germany]. Whichever period you take we seem to be getting warmer.

Finally under 'Temperature' we should look at the mean global temperature record as produced by NASA so here it is:

 

Plot of Temperature against time since 1880

The sceptics often argue against this chart complaining it is not comparable through the time period. They like to take short lengths of it, as from 1940 to 1970 which they then argue show the temperature was dropping while CO2 was rising, but selecting sections to try to prove a point is not just disingenuous but scientifically questionable. Anyway, as we can now see it is in total accord with every other indicator. If events around our planet were telling us one thing and the temperature chart another – I would have a lot of difficulty – but as we can see all agree and I am absolutely confident in those who produce it. They are incredibly competent people and totally aware of potential issues like the heat island effect of urban areas. They are scared for their children as many thinking people are.

Clearly, however we read the temperature record it is also telling us the climate is warming, but there is one final marker that I have already argued is crucial to understanding what the climate is doing which involves the Polar regions. There is another White Paper specifically on that subject (Is There an Early Warning System?) where it is explained why they should be key climate indicators.

So what is happening to the Ice?

A warmer world will with certainty melt ice but there is yet another odd situation we should know about before we go on which the sceptics focus on if they can find examples. We have already understood that a warmer world will produce more rain – or precipitation which includes snow. Taking the Poles, the warmth will melt ice but the additional snowfall will add to it. So long as the additional melt rate exceeds the additional snowfall – the ice will shrink – but if it is the other way round the ice mass will grow. Both situations result from a warmer world though the sceptics seem to assume simply that if the ice mass increases it shows there is no warming. WRONG. As we can see it supports that hypothesis. But we should note that maybe surprisingly central Antarctica is technically a desert and that is not a joke. Precipitation is incredibly low.

Back to what is happening now and because it is so important I have published a solid well illustrated White Paper (What is happening to the ice?) just on the subject of changes in the ice mass. While we can feel temperatures and hear about floods and fires – we cannot see or feel the Polar Regions and the media don’t tell us much when even multi-billion ton chunks of ice break free. So let’s look at it briefly here:

The Antarctic:

  • The Larson A ice shelf had disintegrated almost totally by 1995
  • Larson B followed in 2002 but it had been there for at least the last 12,000 years (so certainly for 110,000 years or almost since modern man walked the earth).
  • Larson C is expected to go in the next decade.
  • 40% of the Wilkins ice shelf has collapsed between 1990 and 2010.
  • The Jones, Wordie, Mueller and Prince Gustav ice shelves have all either gone completely or nearly.
  • Major icebergs are calving (breaking) off the Ronne and Filchner ice shelves which are huge by comparison with the Larsen or Wilkins. To understand huge, it is about 400 miles from the seaward end to the start of the shelf (the distance from London to Edinburgh) – and if just these connected shelves were to disintegrate, sea level would rise by between 3½ and 5 metres.

I have said that floating ice shelves don’t raise sea levels when they melt, but this is such a huge ‘shelf’ that much of the inland part is grounded and that part does actually rise significantly above the ocean – so Goodbye to many major cities.

  • No shelves are growing.

The Arctic:

  • The permafrost in the Arctic is melting fast all over the place with two major greenhouse gases being released automatically – carbon dioxide and methane. A recent documentary with Ian Stewart demonstrated this (‘dangerously’ if you saw it).
  • Arctic summer sea ice cover has generally been reduced by about 6M sq kms by the end of the summer season.
  • Mean annual temperatures are already up a full 5° in the Arctic.
  • The region is warming so much that huge amounts of methane are now being spewed out from the continental shelf north of Siberia, and I believe off the pacific coast of North America. Technically it is coming from methane clathrates (solid methane gas) which change back to gas as they warm. This is roughly where BP is now planning to drill for yet more oil.

Greenland:

  • The Jakobshaven glacier is retreating ever faster (image in the White Paper) with a single one mile break in 2010, so that image is already well out of date. Bad isn’t it?
  • The Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers are similarly retreating and with the Jakobshaven drain some 16% of the entire Greenland ice sheet. As the whole sheet would raise sea level by some 7m if (or when) it all melts, if just this 16% dropped into the ocean it would rise by more than 1 metre. Now we know why scientists are watching and measuring it so intensely.
  • The Petermann glacier is disintegrating fast with 25% breaking on one day in 2010.
  • · No glaciers are growing.

The Canadian Arctic:

  • What used to be the Ellesmere ice shelf started disintegrating in the last century breaking into 6 separate shelves. The Ayles (one of them) collapsed completely in 2005 and the others are going.
  • The North West Passage – the fabled route for ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada – is clearing have had experimental passages made in 2008 & 2009.

Mountain Glaciers:

These are retreating almost all over the world and at an ever accelerating rate, but just as we have had 3 very cold and harsh winters, not all the world warms evenly so there are just a few glaciers growing, but doing so very slowly by comparison and we know where they are. There is a global image in the Paper and a personal photo.

The icy regions of the world are behaving exactly as every other climatic region, showing the impact of a warming climate, but we ought to notice the amazing rates of ice change since 1990.

Might I now leave you with some information that I will develop in due time involving CO2 as we cannot in all honesty consider what climate is doing without also considering carbon.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Several of you will possibly know the infamous chart of atmospheric CO2 since 1850 (in the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and called ‘The Hockey Stick’), but as carbon is now rising almost vertically on that chart it is hard to interpret. Is it getting ever worse or not? Is it getting better? What does it mean?

So here we have a new Antarctic record covering the last 800,000 years, or way before modern man walked planet earth. We will also look at a chart I have produced which shows how fast atmospheric CO2 is growing each year, comparing it over the last 50 years and comparing that with how it was rising during the near vertical historic rises in CO2 which are shown by the horizontal blue line – when we get there.

 

To interpret the chart: The red plot is the temperature (degrees on the left vertical axis with zero being the pre-industrial figure), and the three blue plots between them show the CO2 (ppm on the right vertical axis).

We should firstly notice the incredible similarity between the plots – they go up and down almost absolutely together – but then, for as long as the climate record provides data, carbon has been between 180ppm and 300ppm (182 to 298) – a range of 120ppm. Uncanny if you really think about that.

In 1850 at the start of the industrial revolution (which we started in the UK) it was 285ppm which is where the blue plot hits the right axis, after which it is actually vertical. It has now reached 387.18 or more than 100ppm higher as shown by the horizontal arrow above that. By itself that ought to scream at us because we have almost doubled the range and pushed carbon to where it has not been for a very long time indeed. And through that carbon range the temperature spanned at least 11°. Through each climate cycle the rise from deep glacial to the warm world took about 6,000 years with a full climate cycle taking about 100,000 years. Left to the planet these changes occur extremely slowly. Over at least 5,000 generations in fact.

But here is the important thing: through climate history during the rises from deep glacial to the warm periods, carbon rose at 0.02ppm/year (shown as the blue line on the chart) so what is it doing now? This is where we need to see if that carbon plot in the chart above is getting steeper or not. The data box below gives the numbers and the chart shows the annual rate of rise of CO2, but only from 1960 to 2010.

Time Period Carbon
rise/year
ppm
Last
800,000
years
0.02
1960-1965 0.774
1965-1970 1.02
1970-1975 1.07
1975-1980 1.57
1980-1985 1.40
1985-1990 1.72
1990-1995 1.29
1995-2000 1.81
2000-2005 2.00
2005-2010 2.06
Year 2010 2.80

Source NOOA – National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Notes:

  1. Please note this chart shows the annual rate of increase of CO2 and not the CO2 levels.
  2. The circles are the 5 year average carbon rise figures as in the table left above.
  3. There is a circle with a cross above the 2005 to 2010 figure which I have taken the licence to add. I explain. The recent recession depressed energy consumption through 1998 so this shows the 4 year average for the period excluding 1998.
  4. The 2010 circle is not a 5 year average but the figure for 2010. This could be an exception, but we know China and India are building coal fired power stations at an incredible rate and that positive feedbacks are kicking in (due to a warmer world emitting CO2 all by itself), so at least we should take note of it. I have long predicted that the carbon curve is about to go vertical. I have given the real data so you can decide which plot to assume, but as so often we can draw different 'curves' through the data to indicate the trend. You decide.
  5. The horizontal blue line is the annual rate of carbon increase on the 800,000 year 'Temperature and CO2' chart above – during the near vertical rise of the blue line about 132,000 years ago. THAT is a measure of what modern industrial man is doing to the atmosphere.
  6. In an earlier publication (see Planet Earth: Are we Running out of time?)
    I argued the climate models are not working and the problem is hugely bigger than the IPCC reports suggest. Towards the end I argue the 'tipping point', where we are losing control of climate, is when CO2 is around 325ppm or was around 325ppm as we are so far above that. The new methane emissions from the continental shelf north of Siberia is but one example. Jim Hansen (head of climate science at NASA) has since published that we need to get back below 350ppm. We are now at 387ppm and from the chart above we are likely to be at 415ppm by 2020 and it could be a deal higher. Jim argues we are close to a point where climate chaos is a certainty and how could I disagree.

In 1960 we were increasing CO2 some 40 times faster than ever in recorded history, but that figure is approaching 150 in 2010. And with the progress our political leaders are making it will rise even faster. So let’s get it into some sort of perspective. Since 1850 – over 150 years – we raised atmospheric carbon by 105ppm but we will raise it by a further 25 to 35ppm every decade from now if we carry on as we are.

Conclusions

I hope we have considered all the elements on earth that would either validate the climate to be warming or show it not to be. I have not been selective with the information.

Whether we take floods, droughts, fires, temperatures or the melting ice, the same conclusion has to be reached – that the climate is warming and substantially so. In the first Paper on Climate I showed that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that if we have more of it the temperature on Earth must rise. By how much is what the debate is all about. But here we have also considered CO2 alongside all the above, and like all the events – it is rising inexorably and I argue is well into the danger zone already.

Welcome to our warmer world.

While I cannot say with 100% certainty, hand on heart, that all the changes in these two papers are due and only due to anthropogenic (manmade) emissions, this is what a warmer world will do and our greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet.

What we all have to decide is whether the balance of probability tells us we have a huge problem – especially if we carry on – or whether we should ignore what I argue is the obvious. What you have to decide if you choose to ignore this is – at what level will you decide we have to react? And remember, the longer we wait, the bigger the hurdle we have to get over; the greater the cost, and the greater the disruption to our civilisation.

Not only does every single element unequivocally point to a warming climate but the rate of warming seems to be highly significant no matter which you take, and each points to the rate of warming increasing rapidly. I invite you to reach your own conclusions but the notion that the climate scientists have to prove beyond doubt that the climate is warming and that we are largely responsible is absurd. The balance of probability is now so heavily weighted towards the hypothesis that the planet is warming and we are doing it that it should be the task of the sceptics to prove it isn’t.

If you feel I have missed something of importance, and if there is scientific data to support your view then I would like to hear from you. It is our duty to get it right and not pervert the evidence or data. If you feel you still want to take the view that I am wrong then I wonder why that would be? Many are worried about the impact on our lives if we reduce the amount of energy we use, but I am satisfied we can all be at least as happy if not happier using much less energy. Much of our ‘happiness’ is transient and I promise there are ultra-low energy solutions to all problems.

In Part 3 we concentrate on The Implications of a warming climate.