Warmest Oceans on Record Could Set Off a Year of Extreme Weather

  • Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans have reached record highs
  • Hurricanes, wildfires and severe thunderstorms all affected

The world’s seas are simmering, with record high temperatures spurring worry among forecasters that the global warming effect may generate a chaotic year of extreme weather ahead.

Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. The high temperatures could offer clues on the ferocity of the Atlantic hurricane season, the eruption of wildfires from the Amazon region to Australia, and whether the record heat and severe thunderstorms raking the southern U.S. will continue.

In the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore drilling accounts for about 17% of U.S. oil output, water temperatures were 76.3 degrees Fahrenheit (24.6 Celsius), 1.7 degrees above the long-term average, said Phil Klotzbach at Colorado State University. If Gulf waters stay warm, it could be the fuel that intensifies any storm that comes that way, Klotzbach said.

“The entire tropical ocean is above average,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster at the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. “And there is a global warming component to that. It is really amazing when you look at all the tropical oceans and see how warm they are.”

Simmering Seas

The deeper the red, the warmer the water in this illustration from NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service.


The record warm water in the Gulf of Mexico spilled over into every coastal community along the shoreline with all-time high temperatures on land, said Deke Arndt, chief of the monitoring section at the National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina. Florida recorded its warmest March on record, and Miami reached 93 degrees Wednesday, a record for the date and 10 degrees above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

While coronavirus has the nation’s attenton right now, global warming continues to be a threat. Sea water “remembers and holds onto heat” better than the atmosphere, Arndt said.

Overall, the five warmest years in the world’s seas, as measured by modern instruments, have occurred over just the last half-dozen or so years. It’s “definitely climate-change related,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. “Oceans are absorbing about 90% of the heat trapped by extra greenhouse gases,”

Worldwide, sea temperatures were 1.49 degrees Fahrenheit above average in March. That’s the second highest level recorded since 1880 for the month of March, according to U.S. data. In 2016, temperatures were 1.55 degrees above average.

The first of Colorado State’s 2020 storm reports, led by Klotzbach, forecast this year that eight hurricanes could spin out of the Atlantic with an above-average chance at least one will make landfall in the U.S. during the six-month season starting June 1. The U.S. is set to issue its hurricane forecast next month.

Arctic Systems

The searing global temperatures this year can also be traced back to intense climate systems around the Arctic that bottled up much of that region’s cold, preventing it from spilling south into temperate regions. Combined with global warming, this was a one-two punch for sea temperatures that’s brought them to historic highs.

One of the best-known examples of how oceans drive global weather patterns is the development of the climate system known as El Nino. It occurs when unusually warm waters in the equatorial Pacific interact with the atmosphere to alter weather patterns worldwide. In the Atlantic, for instance, El Ninos can cause severe wind shear that can break up developing storms with the potential to become dangerous hurricanes.

This year, the chance of an El Nino developing are small, and scientists are theorizing one reason could be that climate change is warming all the world’s oceans. El Nino “depends on contrasts, as well as absolute values of sea-surface temperatures,” according to Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Strengthening Their Fury

Meanwhile, if the Atlantic stays warm through the six-month storm season that starts June 1, the tropical systems can use it as fuel to strengthen their fury.

The oceans also play a role in setting the stage for wildfires. In the case of Australia and the Amazon, really warm areas of the ocean can pull rain away from the land, causing drier conditions and, in extreme cases, drought. Last year, for instance, the Indian Ocean was really warm off Africa, so that is where all the storms went. Australia was left high and dry.

Back in the Atlantic, research by Katia Fernandes, a geosciences professor at the University of Arkansas, has also shown a correlation between sea surface temperatures in the northern tropical Atlantic and drought and wildfires in the Amazon. The warmer the water, the further north rainfall is pulled across South America.

According to Fernandes model, even Atlantic temperatures in March can serve to predict if the Amazon will be dry and susceptible to fires.

For California, the outlook isn’t as clear. Wildfires there depend as much on how well vegetation grows, providing fuel for the flames, as it does on the weather conditions coming off the Pacific.

“Tricky question,” said Mike Anderson, California state climatologist. “Our weather outcomes are influenced by sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, but it depends on where and when the warm waters appear and how long they persist. In the end we have a highly variable climate that doesn’t map in a statistically convenient way to patterns of sea-surface temperatures.”

Climate change will increase wildfire smoke and harm children in Montana, panelists say

Climate change health care costs versus cheap carbon-emitting fossil fuels
Climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is especially unhealthy for young children in Montana and will only get worse by mid-century.

That’s according to a panel of doctors and scientists who spoke at seminar focused on climate change and human health in Missoula this month.

Paul Smith, the director of pediatric pulmonology at Community Medical Center, said climate change is undoubtedly causing wildfires in western Montana to burn more acres, last longer and produce more smoke. That means children’s lungs, which are more vulnerable than those of adults, suffer the most.

“So when we talk about the balance of decisions we’re making for one consumption or the other, we really have to balance it over the externalized costs of those health care costs that are taking place to children,” he explained. “And those are never taken into the equation. So if you look at the decades of suffering, the years of life lost in children because of our decisions we make now, you never see that figured into the cost of cheap energy or the cost of fossil fuels consumption or our own society’s consumption.”

A broad consensus among experts has confirmed that the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal, along with deforestation, are responsible for an increase in global average temperatures. Smith said that the U.S. government’s failure to factor in the cost of negative health effects when promoting fossil fuels is a dangerous bet.

“So you really have to, in my eyes, look at this as the government making a gamble that 95, 97, 99 percent of climate scientists are wrong and it’s OK to keep with the current situation that we have,” Smith said. “But that gamble is not being made on their ledger. That gamble is being made on our children’s and grandchildren’s ledger.”

Montana lawmakers, meanwhile, continue to promote carbon-emitting energy. In March, Montana Public Radio reported that a Montana state senator, Colstrip Republican Duane Ankney, took a trip arranged by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines to Washington, D.C.

The trip’s purpose was to encourage U.S. Department of Energy officials to subsidize coal-fired power plants, like the one in Colstrip, with taxpayer dollars to help keep them running and economically viable. That’s because Ankney said coal, unlike other energy sources, can be turned on and off when it’s needed most.

“As soon as the wind quits blowing and you lose your hydro, then you want that baseload coal-fired generation to come online,” he told MTPR.

The Montana Institute on Ecosystems, the American Lung Association and the University of Montana School of Public Health and Community Sciences hosted a two-part seminar called “Climate Change and Human Health in Montana” earlier this month in Bozeman and Missoula. The seminar featured a variety of expert speakers, from health care workers to climate scientists, talking about the dangers of climate change and possible solutions.

The 2017 Montana Climate Assessment found that increasing temperatures will have broad impacts on Montana’s waters, forests and agriculture — and that will have implications in the statewide economy. More wildfire smoke, though, will increase mortality related to cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. There will be increased incidents of heat stress and premature births.

Smith said the World Health Organization estimates that 85 percent of health impacts of climate change occur in children under the age of 5.

“I think that’s really kind of a stark message,” Smith said.

Children have less developed immune systems, more vulnerable lungs and are less able to regulate their body temperatures. That makes them more susceptible to heat stress. Smith said heat and air pollution from climate change have caused increased rates of premature births, and children born prematurely suffer lifelong health consequences.

Wildfire smoke promises to become more common in western Montana in the coming years, Smith said.

“Over the last 50 years, forest fires are starting sooner, burning more acres and producing more smoke than we used to see,” he said.

Several studies have shown that increased logging and thinning on public lands is unlikely to lead to less wildfire smoke in the future.

Nick Silverman, a hydroclimatologist at the University of Montana and the co-author of the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment, said all four of the last four years have been the hottest on record.

“Every year we keep breaking records on heat,” he said, displaying a graph that shows the average global temperatures increasing since the industrial revolution.

Silverman said that all 40 of the forecasting models used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict temperature increases of 5-6 degrees above the historical average for Montana in the next 30 years.

The number of days below freezing temperatures in western Montana will decrease every year by about a month and a half, while the number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees will increase here by a couple of weeks. There will probably be more precipitation in the winter and spring, but less rain in the summer. And August, especially, is predicted to be drier and hotter than average.

Summers will be 30 percent drier, and the rest of the year will be slightly wetter, Silverman said.

There will be a 50 percent increase in the area burned by wildfires every year, specifically in August. There will be smoke lasting well into September, a decline in snowpack, and the peak streamflow will be two to three weeks earlier.

“This all could potentially be the norm by the mid-century,” he said. “There will be an increase in droughts and wildfire.”

To see the entire two-part seminar on Climate Change and Human Health in Montana, visit http://montanaioe.org/form/climate-change-and-human-health-montana-seminar.

Don’t blame wildfires on climate change – it’s environmentalists’ fault, says Zinke


US interior secretary Ryan Zinke blames environmentalists for the devastation in California and calls for an increase in logging

A wildfire burns near Yosemite national park.
 A wildfire burns near Yosemite national park. Photograph: US forest service/Reuters

The US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has blamed environmentalists for California’s ferocious wildfires and claimed, contrary to scientific research, that climate change had “nothing to do” with them. Instead, he said the fires were worsened because of limits on logging.

“America is better than letting these radical groups control the dialogue about climate change,” Zinke told KCRA, a TV station in northern California, on Sunday. “Extreme environmentalists have shut down public access. They talk about habitat and yet they are willing to burn it up.”

His remarks come on the heels of a USA Today op-ed, published last week, where he held environmentalists partly responsible for the fires because of a stance some have taken against logging. Zinke described it as a responsible means of forest management and called for an increase in timber harvesting, adding that this would also be a boon for the economy.

“This is not a debate about climate change,” he said on a trip to the affected area, the Sacramento Bee reported. “There’s no doubt the [fire] season is getting longer, the temperatures are getting hotter.”

Donald J. Trump


California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!

Zinke’s statements echoed sentiments expressed by President Trump – a 5 August tweet suggested the fires were “made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized”. The claim, referencing decades-long disputes over California water rights, was met with immediate backlash and confusion because firefighters are not struggling with a water shortage. The White House has yet to offer a response or explanation.

More than 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq km) have burned across California in the 2018 fire season and at least eight people have been killed in what is now considered the most destructive fire season on record for the state – several months ahead of when fire season is expected to end.

The Ranch Fire, which continues to scorch swaths of land in northern California has officially taken the record as the largest ever observed in the state, burning close to 469 sq miles (1,214 sq km) alone.

Governor Jerry Brown has called the devastating situation “the new normal” as dry conditions and rising temperatures have elongated the fire season, and has joined climate scientists who attribute the shift to climate change.

Writing in the Guardian last week, climate scientists Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden and John Abatzoglou said California had entered an “era of megafires” that is linked to “the long-term warming trend”.

Researchers do attribute the recent fires in part to forest management strategies, and moves to inhibit naturally occurring wildfires that previously helped maintain an ecological balance in forests. Fire suppression has left forests dense, dry and primed to burn. Such policies, Swain and his colleagues write, were put in place to protect the timber industry.

Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the science showing a link between worsening wildfires and rising temperatures is well established. “Specifically for the western states,” she said, “we know that the wildfire activity in recent decades – at least half of it – is attributable to human-caused climate change.”

“This is a reality that we have created and that we are living with, but this is an evolving situation. Where we are right now is just one point on a trajectory that is headed in a worsening direction.”

Wildfires roar across parched, hot West; 1 dead in blaze near California-Oregon border


As dozens of wildfires roar across the hot, dry western U.S., the nation’s first fire fatality in months was reported in a fast-moving blaze near the California-Oregon border.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Suzi Brady said Friday the person died in the blaze that started Thursday but that she couldn’t release any other details because next of kin have not been notified.

She says the blaze, known as the Klamathon Fire, is threatening 300 homes near Hornbook, California, a town of 250 people about 14 miles south of the Oregon border.

Barbara Taylor’s home of 40 years was destroyed in the Klamathon blaze. She said someone found her cat “alive, but she’s singed.”

“I can’t believe that I left her there,” Taylor said, fighting back tears.  

More: UPDATE: At least 12 structures destroyed in Klamathon Fire

More: Klamathon Fire: One person dead; Interstate 5 reopens at California border

More than 60 wildfires are now burning in 13 states across the U.S., most of them in the West and Alaska, the National Interagency Fire Center reported.

In parts of California, Colorado and Utah, hundreds of residents remain under evacuation orders because of the aggressive wildfires, the Weather Channel said.

Colorado’s Spring Creek Fire, the state’s third-largest on record, has destroyed 100 homes and forced the evacuations of 2,000 other homes. The blaze has scorched nearly 161 square miles and was 35 percent contained, according to InciWeb.

A wildfire in central Utah has destroyed an estimated 90 structures, including homes.

In 2018, wildfires have charred 4,539 square miles in the USA, which is about 700 square miles above average.

In Southern California, most of the normally temperate region is expected to broil in triple digits Friday and Saturday before getting some relief. The heat is caused by a massive dome of high pressure, which also is expected to spread oppressive conditions into parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah, worsening wildfire conditions in those states.

When nature harms itself: Five scary climate feedback loops


The thing about climate change is, the worse it gets – the worse it gets. Feedback loops accelerate the warming process. Now, scientists looking at lakes have found yet another alarming vicious circle to add to the list.

Bildergalerie Waldbrand Kalifornien (Getty Images/J. Sullivan)

Lakes make a tiny fraction of the world’s water, but they’re home to lots of plants and animals. They’re often situated in the midst of still more biodiversity, in the form of forest. At least, they used to be.

Lately, forests have been vanishing, while aquatic plants continue to thrive. Due to this change, the lakes of the northern hemisphere could almost double their methane emissions over the next 50 years, new research has shown. Why? Climate change.

This increase of emissions will further contribute to global warming, in what scientists call a positive climate feedback loop.

And it’s just the latest addition to a growing list of ways we’re altering natural processes with spiraling impacts on the climate and carbon cycle. Here are some of the most alarming:

BdW Global Ideas Bild der Woche KW 45/2015 Antarktis Pinguin (Reuters/P. Askin)The ‘ice-albedo’ feedback loop acclerates polar ice melt

More and more methane 

Freshwater bodies are responsible for more than 15 percent of the Earth’s natural emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Up to 77 percent of a lake’s methane emissions come from the decomposition of aquatic plants. Microbes break down organic matter and generate methane that bubbles up to the surface.

Warming temperatures encourage the growth of aquatic plants, meaning there is more of this carbon-rich matter to break down, releasing still more climate-harmful methane into the atmosphere.

Researchers also found that debris from surrounding trees impedes methane production within the lake. But with fewer trees surrounding lakes that safety catch is also off.

Canada's Boreal Shield, Ontario (Andrew Tanentzap)Plants decomposing in lakes release methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times for powerful than CO2

A melting sun shield

The dazzling white of polar ice isn’t just eye-catching, it also helps keep the planet cool, reflecting the sun’s rays back to space.

As ice melts that reflective coating is lost, exposing darker bodies of water and land, which absorb more of the sun’s heat, leading to greater warming and, in turn, to more ice melting… and so on.

This scary process is known as ice-albedo feedback.

Infografik Melting of Arctic sea ice feedback loop ENG

Defrosting the permafrost

Permafrost is ground that has remained frozen for more than two consecutive years. It covers about 20 percent of the surface of the Earth — mostly in Canada, Russia and Alaska — and stores huge amounts of carbon, some of it for thousands or even millions of years.

Watch video04:13

Effects of Global Warming in Norway

As the planet warms up, permafrost is thawing. The IPCC estimates that permafrost in southern Alaska has become 4 millimeters thinner each year since 1992.

This thawing can put buildings and other infrastructure at risk, as a number of cities are built on permafrost. But it entails another and very worrying risk. Microbes in the newly defrosted soil become active, transforming once-frozen carbon into carbon dioxide and methane.

Scientists are very concerned about the impact of these greenhouse gases on the climate, but the true scale of the problem is still unknown.

Ring of fire

Forest fires have had devastating consequences in countries like Indonesia, California or Spain over the last few years. Alongside other human activity — like unsustainable land use — warmer temperatures and drier land due to climate change increase the risk and scale of forest fires.

Various studies found that large forest fires in the western United States have become five times more frequent since the 1970s and 80s, scorching over six times as much land, and lasting almost five times as long.

Burning all that wood and other organic matter, forest fires release massive amounts of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, helping push the global temperature and further dying out the land…

Watch video12:06

Palm Oil plantations threaten the rainforest

Cascading forest loss

Trees, of course, need water to survive. But they don’t just consume this precious resource, they also help regulate it in the atmosphere. In the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, researchers are warning that a dangerous vicious circle might be taking place.

Rising temperatures close to the equator mean less rainfall, and even drought, which increases the risk of forest dieback. As drought takes its toll, there are fewer trees to absorb water and release it back, which in turns makes conditions still drier.

This “cascading dieback” is also worrying because forests are famously important carbon sinks, and forest loss a significant source of CO2 emissions.

Bonus track: Look down, soils matter

Soils hold 70 percent of the planet’s land-based carbon — four times as much as all the world’s biomass and three times the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon could remain locked into the soil for millennia if we just left it alone. But unsustainable agriculture means it often escapes as carbon dioxide.

Since the start of the industrial revolution, a startling 50 to 70 percent of carbon once stored in soil has already been released into the atmosphere.

Loss of peatlands — which store huge amount of carbon — has a particularly terrifying impact, currently contributing 5 percent of global CO2 emissions and fueling forest fires.

While not a feedback loop, the example of CO2 from soils is a stark reminder of the delicate balance of our planetary system and the profound damage we do by upsetting it.





Schmelzendes Eis in der Arktik

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As frigid air sweeps across Europe, the Arctic itself is seeing an unprecedented warm spell. What’s going on and does it relate to global warming?

Portugal Waldbrände

How climate change is increasing forest fires around the world 19.06.2017

Have wildfires increased globally over recent years? And if so, is global warming to blame? Research has illuminated this, along with what wildfires do to us and our environment, and which areas are most vulnerable.

Flash-Galerie 5 Jahre Hurrikan Katrina

The world at 3 degrees: What it means for five cities 15.11.2017

From rising sea levels to megastorms and drought, how five cities around the world will face their own struggles to adapt to a warming planet.

Self-Immolation as the World Burns: An Earth Day Report

A man watches the Thomas Fire in the hills above Carpinteria, California, December 11, 2017. The Thomas Fire in California's Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed more than 230,000 acres over the past week making it the fifth largest fire in the state's history. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)A man watches the Thomas Fire in the hills above Carpinteria, California, December 11, 2017. The Thomas Fire in California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed more than 230,000 acres over the past week making it the fifth largest fire in the state’s history. (Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images)

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” lawyer David Buckel wrote in the email sent to The New York Times just before he performed an act of self-immolation at a park in Brooklyn recently. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

Nationally known for his brilliant work championing gay rights, Buckel had been distressed by what was happening to the planet for years and was also heavily involved in environmental causes. In his suicide note to the Times, Buckel discussed how challenging it was to change things for the better in the world, even with so many people working so strenuously to do so and mentioned how donating to organizations was not enough.

Deciding to bring his life to an end by using fossil fuels for self-immolation to make his point, Buckel’s last note read, “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death.”

To the average person who understands anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), Buckel’s act might seem extreme. It is extreme … but within the context of how truly far along the planet already is (for example, for years now Earth has been seeing 150-200 species go extinct every single day, and half of all of the planet’s marine life has been lost since just 1970), it becomes less so.

The rate of underwater melting around the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years, and is on a pace that will see it soon eclipse melting in Greenland to become the single largest source of sea-level rise on Earth, according to a recently published study in Nature Geoscience. This amount of sub-sea melting of the ice continent is far greater than what was previously known, and the ice there is retreating at a rate five times the historical average. This is raising fears of the specter of a worst-case sea level riseof around 10 feet by 2100.

This is one reason why, after another deadly cyclone struck the island group this month, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said that ACD is now brining “almost constant” extreme weather and is literally a threat to the survival of the island nation. Bainimarama told the BBC that his country had entered a “frightening new era” of extreme weather that needed to be confronted.

Things are progressing so fast now with ACD impacts that more than one scientist I’ve been talking with over the years has shifted from being vehemently anti-geoengineering to either giving it renewed attention, or even outright supporting it. This is, to me, deeply troubling.

Scientists in several developing countries are now actively studying ways to dim sunshine and slow planetary warming via man-made chemical sunshade, as they see this as less risky than unchecked increases in global temperatures in the absence of global climate action.

Reuters reported that 12 scholars from countries including China, Thailand, Brazil, Bangladesh, India and Ethiopia published an article in the journal Nature recently, stating that since the poor are the most vulnerable to ACD, “Developing countries must lead on solar geo-engineering research.”

“The technique is controversial, and rightly so,” the scholars wrote of the technique, which involves spraying clouds with reflective sulphur particles high in the atmosphere. “It is too early to know what its effects would be: it could be very helpful or very harmful,” they wrote. The same article cited a panel of UN climate experts who called solar geo-engineering “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible.”

At the current trajectory of emissions and global growth, Earth is on course to see a minimum warming of 3 degrees Celsius (3°C), or far more, above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100, and the goal of keeping temperature increases “well below” the 2°C as per the 2015 Paris Agreement among nearly 200 countries currently looks unfeasible.

While self-immolation and geo-engineering are extreme, this month’s survey of the planet provides the context within which these radical phenomena are taking place.


Due to lack of moisture, a recently published study shows that half of Alberta, Canada’s boreal forests could disappear due to ACD and fires by 2100. The study warned that it’s possible that even 75 percent of the forest could disappear if conditions become even more extreme. What is particularly worrisome about this is the fact that the boreal forests store massive amounts of carbon, so as they disappear, that carbon is also released into the atmosphere.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Sahara Desert is expanding, thanks in part to ACD, according to another report. The boundaries of this massive desert have grown by 10 percent in the last century, affecting farming terrain near its southern boundary in Sudan and Chad, places already struggling with famine and food scarcity.

Looking a little further south, rainforests, savannahs and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa have released approximately 2.6 billion tons of CO2 over the last seven years, according to a recent study. The leading causes of this are ACD, deforestation, wildfires and droughts. This is disconcerting because Africa contains one-third of the planet’s tropical rainforests.

Other direct impacts on human health from ACD this month are clear. A recent report showed how, as the planet continues to warm, ticks are thriving in more places than ever, which makes Lyme disease the first epidemic of ACD.

Meanwhile, ACD’s impacts on animals continue to be prevalent.

A recently published study showed that seabirds are not adapting adequately enough to climate shifts brought about by ACD. As rising temperatures are causing the birds’ food sources like insects, vegetation and plankton to appear earlier each year, the bird populations are not able to sync up their breeding and nesting patters in order to adapt to these changes.

Meanwhile, extreme weather’s economic toll is making itself known in the US, which experienced three different weather disasters in just the first three months of this year, each with more than a billion-dollar price tag, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data.


The pace of melting ice at or near the poles continues to amaze scientists.
recently published study showed that the Greenland Ice Sheet is seeing its melting nearly double over just the last century. This also means it is melting at its fastest rate in at least the last 4,000 years.

In the US, Western Alaska’s sea ice is at the lowest extent it has been since record keeping began. Rick Thoman, a weather service climate scientist, told the Anchorage Daily News that when looking at the long-term records of coastal sea ice from satellite data, whaler’s logs and Danish and Norwegian ship records, “Nothing even comes close” to how little sea ice this February and March have just witnessed in that region.

On the sea level increase front, a recently published NOAA report showed that high-tide flooding could literally be happening “every other day” by the end of this century, and showed that already, the frequency that high-tide flooding is occurring has already doubled along the East Coast of the US in just the last 15 years.

Another recent report showed how the state of California is facing a massive threat from sea level rise, and indicates that previous flood hazard maps had underestimated the area of land at risk to rising seas by up to 90 percent. The San Francisco Bay Area is going to be particularly hard hit.

Meanwhile, drought across the US continues to persist, and in some places, worsen, as ACD advances.

By early April, a stretch of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico had already dried up, well in advance of summer. Due primarily to record low snowpack, that the river has started to dry up this early in the year is nearly unprecedented.

In Minnesota, another report has warned that ACD will turn Boundary Waters Wilderness Region into “a barren grassland” if human carbon emissions stay the same. As temperatures in that area continue to increase, lush forests are turning into grasslands there, and the waters will disappear with the trees.

A new early-warning satellite system has provided a warning for several countries that are at risk of having their reservoirs shrink from drought to the point that their taps could run completely dry. While Cape Town, South Africa, has featured prominently in the news with its “Day Zero” warning of when the city will run out of water, now countries including India, Iraq, Morocco and Spain could also be seeing “day zero” type water crises as their water reservoirs dry up. For example, Morocco’s second-largest reservoir has already shrunk 60 percent in three years due to recurring drought, and its water level is the lowest it has been in a decade. Iraq’s Mosul Dam reservoir has seen a long decline and is now down 60 percent from its peak, due to ACD-fueled drought, coupled with demand from Turkish hydropower projects upstream and increasing water demand downstream.

Meanwhile, as the oceans continue to warm and coral bleaching events become more common, another report shows that fish populations along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are collapsing in the wake of ongoing coral bleaching events. Not surprisingly, many of the fish species that live among the coral are dropping off as the corals are wiped out by the bleaching events.

To make matters worse, another recently published study shows that marine heatwaves are increasing in both frequency and duration at an accelerated rate in many parts of the planet, particularly so in Australian waters. The study showed that the number of oceanic heatwave days per year has increased a staggering 54 percent globally, as oceans have absorbed 93 percent of atmospheric heat from ACD.


A recently released book by Heather Hansen shows how the US — and much of the rest of the planet — is entering an era of mega-fire, given ACD-fueled droughts and wildfires, along with human encroachment and deforestation.

It has been long known that ACD is amping up the frequency and intensity of wildfires, along with lengthening wildfire seasons, and scientists continue to addressthese facts.

As though to underscore these points, at the time of writing, forecasters in the US began sounding warnings of dangerous, life-threatening wildfire conditions across parts of the southwest and southern plains whilst firefighters in Oklahoma fought blazes that had already killed two people.

The Associated Press reported that weather conditions in drought-stricken areas of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas are creating “dangerous fire conditions,” the likes of which have not been seen in at least a decade.


Amidst a large number of scientific studies recently published, limiting global warming to 2°C will not prevent destructive and deadly ACD impacts as so many people believed it would. Two degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial baseline temperatures, which was long held as the temperature limit for maintaining a safe and healthy planet, is no longer the case. Just that much of a temperature increase is now understood to bring mass displacement of humans from rising seas, wide-scale shortages of food and water across the globe, and accelerated losses of animal and plant species — both of which are already plummeting since we are well into the planet’s Sixth Mass Extinction.

Meanwhile, during the month of March, high temperature records across Asia fell like dominoes. Pakistan saw 114°F, a high temperature never seen so early in the season. Other records included 110° in Iraq, 104° in Qatar, 104° in Turkmenistan, 99° in Uzbekistan and 96° in Tajikistan.

Denial and Reality

The active ACD denialists of the Trump administration have been busy these last few weeks.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), led by fossil-fuel industry hack Scott Pruitt, prepares to roll back laws that required automobiles to be cleaner and more fuel efficient.

Meanwhile, Pruitt’s EPA directed staffers to use talking points designed to downplay the role humans play in ACD. The points literally mimic Pruitt’s own public statements, as he has consistently denied the human role in the crisis from day one.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, another ACD denialist and pro-fossil fuel hack, recently had all National Park Service officials delete every single mention of humans’ role in ACD from a report on sea level rise and storm surge.

All of this is almost laughably contradicted by reality.

Four oil giants (Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell) recently acknowledged the global consensus about the reality of ACD (and humans’ role in it) to a federal judge.

The country of New Zealand recently announced the cessation of all future offshore oil and gas exploration permits, a move that took oil companies by surprise but underscored how serious the country is about shifting away from fossil fuels.

Climate Disruption Dispatches

This is a good thing, given that a recent report showed the world to be on track to reach 1.5°C warming within a decade from now. Hitting that temperature increase marker means that the planet will have already exceeded one of the key goals in the 2015 Paris climate agreements.

Finally for this month, a recently released study showed that the Gulf Stream current is now the weakest it has been for 1,600 years. The current, known scientifically as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), carries warm water towards the North Pole, where it then cools and sinks, then flows back southwards. ACD is slowing down the cooling of the water as warmer temperatures melt the Greenland ice sheet, which floods the area with less dense freshwater, which further weakens the AMOC.

The report warns that the current could be less stable than previously understood. This is particularly worrisome, given that the AMOC has historically caused dramatic changes in the global climate system.

It was previously believed that a slowing down of the AMOC would take centuries to occur. A collapse of the AMOC could cause Western Europe to experience far more extreme winters, sea level rise along the US eastern seaboard to increase rapidly, and disrupted rainfall across the tropics.

“I think we’re close to a tipping point,” climatologist Michael Mann told ThinkProgress. Mann called the slowing down of the AMOC as being “without precedent” in more than a millennium, and added, “It’s happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict.”

Reacting to this study, senior scientists warned the Guardian that a disruption to the AMOC must be avoided “at all costs.”

Meanwhile, business as usual in harvesting and burning fossil fuels around the planet continues apace throughout the vast majority of countries, particularly within the US.

Copyright, Truthout. 

Climate change is unraveling natural cycles in the West


Spring’s early arrival creates more mismatches in ecosystems.

From an astronomical perspective, the first day of spring is the spring equinox, the day when the sun passes directly above the equator, occurring around March 21 each year. From a biological perspective, spring arrives when plants and animals respond to an accumulation of seasonal signals, such as growing warmth or longer days. Plants bud, birds fly north and insects emerge from tree holes and leaf litter. This seasonal timing of plant and animal life stages is called phenology.

This spring, wildflowers filled California’s Carrizo Plain National Monument, a grassland in the Central Valley.
Beth Pearson King/BLM

For many plants, warming days are one of the main signals that it’s time to wake up from their winter slumber. As climate change has caused the West to warm earlier in the year, “biological” spring has shifted, too. In many parts of the West, it has crept early across the landscape.

The USA-National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) studies just how much the start of spring is changing using extended spring index models, computer simulations based on a historic data set of lilac and honeysuckle phenology begun in the 1950s. The models also help scientists predict future spring arrivals. Scientists update spring index maps each day on the USA-NPN website, as well as spring leaf anomaly maps, which compare the current year’s spring to 30-year averages.

As the May 9, 2017 spring leaf anomaly map shows, in most of the West spring has come 12 to 20 days early this year, relative to the long-term average. The exceptions are high-elevation Western mountains (in green on the map), where spring is expected to arrive on time, and the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Pacific coast (in blue), where gusts of cold Arctic air have delayed spring.

This follows a growing trend. According to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, from 1950 to 2005, spring shifted about eight days earlier in the Western United States, due to climate change. “This trend matters because of what it means for a lot of ecosystem processes and interactions between organisms,” says Kathy Gerst, research scientist with the USA-NPN. “Plants may flower earlier, but other organisms may respond to different cues, or to the same cues in different ways.”

For example, the 2014 National Climate Assessment notes that some migratory birds now arrive at their breeding grounds after food is most abundant. That’s because temperatures at their wintering grounds, which tell the birds it’s time to head north, are changing more slowly than at spring breeding grounds, which signal to their food plants that it’s time to start making nectar and fruit. On the mammalian side, the earlier spring in Alaska means that caribou have a harder time finding good forage while they breed.

For humans, phenological mismatches can affect harvests by changing when crop pollinators arrive, how dense herbivorous insects are on crops, or even when animals that eat crop pests appear. And allergy sufferers, take note: Ragweed has begun producing pollen later into the fall, thanks to a lengthening growing season.

All of these mismatches embody an idea that ecologists call asynchrony. Ecological systems exist because many different species have evolved to follow the same seasonal schedule, behaving in synchrony, relying on one another for the resources they need. Now, with climate change, some of those systems are unraveling — and this spring’s early arrival is a sign of more asynchrony to come.

Note: This article has been updated to clarify the history of USA-NPN.

Maya L. Kapoor is an associate editor with High Country News.