It’s been quite awhile since I’ve done a climate diary. We’ve heard plenty of news stories addressing warming-related flooding, heat waves, and drought, and the impacts and future implications of these events, so for the holiday season I thought I’d provide an overview of the current state of the climate. I see global sea ice as a good way to examine
I hadn’t checked the daily mean global surface temperature graphic on University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer web page for awhile, and when I did on this past Monday morning, the banner graphic is what I found. The accompanying caption explains the statistical information for the 44-year record.
Mean Global Surface Temperature
On 3 December, the mean global surface temperature was 14.0oC, 1.3oC (2.3oF) above normal and clearly the warmest on record. The data go back to 1979, the beginning of the satellite data record. Each year from 1979 to 2021 is represented by a gray line, while 2023 is shown in bold black and 2022 in orange. You’ll also notice that just about every day since the end of May has been the warmest in the 1979-2023 climate record. It’s also obvious that 2023 will be the warmest year on record, as has been reported recently in the media.
Spatial Distribution of Temperature Anomalies for 3 December 2023
What did the daily surface temperature anomalies look like over the globe? This graphic tells the story; temperatures in broad swaths of the world were above normal, especially in the Arctics, where anomalies were are large as +20oC (+36oF). The Arctic has seen the largest amplification of global warming because of reduced reflection of solar radiation by snow and ice.
The amplifying El Niño is reflected in the above normal surface temperatures across the eastern equatorial Pacific (left center, east of South America).
What’s Going On With the Arctic Sea Ice
…. and does it reflect (pun intended) those warm Arctic surface temperatures? The daily mean sea ice extent (the surface area covered by 15% or more ice) shows that after a minimum at about 4.3 million km2, this year’s Arctic sea ice increased more quickly than normal until mid-November. Subsequently, there was an abrupt (though brief) slowdown and a slow recovery (blue line) to early December. In context, the last two calendar years (2022 in dark blue/black), sea ice extent never exceeded the lowest 10% of 1981-2010 values.
That dashed red line, by the way? That denotes 2012, the year in which Arctic Sea Ice minimum was the lowest on record.
The 4 december 2023 ‘snapshot’
We show the distribution of Arctic sea ice for 4 December below. The shading from dark blue to white indicate sea ice concentrations over the region (represented by the color bar at right), and the orange contours show the median sea ice concentrations over the 1981-2010 period.
Virtually everywhere, sea ice extent is below the 1981-2010 median, except for the Fram Strait and southward (east of Greenland), where sea ice extent is near normal.
What About the Antarctic?
In late austral summer 2022 (red dashed line), the Antarctic experienced its record lowest sea ice extent. It came as a bit of a shock when 2023 (blue solid line) beat that record by over 100,000 km2, followed by a winter with a record low maximum sea ice extent. Ice melt since that time started slower than normal, but increased to near normal in mid-November and to above normal in early December.
Below we have the sea ice concentration in the Antarctic as of 4 December. Large areas normally ice covered (orange contour) show open ocean, particularly either side of the Greenwich meridian (0o) north of East Antarctica.
So, Where Are We and Why?
editorial: a history of intentional inaction
What we see here is the result of decades of inaction, in service to the oil/gas/coal industries who benefit from the status quo. These same industries’ research in the 60s predicted the outlines of where we are now. As the climate and other environmental consequences of dominance in the economy of carbon energy usage became clearer in the 70s and 80s, an increasing number of politicians were bought off by energy industry lobbyists and hefty campaign contributions. Remember the solar panels placed on the White House by Pres. Jimmy Carter in 1979? They were taken down in 1986 for roof repairs and never replaced by Ronald “Government Is the Problem” Reagan. So were the tax incentives and research into alternative energy which were to make us “oil independent” by 2000, which expired at about the same time. There’s much that can be said with respect to the time after the 1986 decisions, but I think we all know the basic outline: the freedom to make as much money as possible is far more important than the common good, which is just communism by another name </s>.
United Nations efforts over the last couple of decades, based on scientific reports on the state of the global climate issued every 5 years or so, have looked promising with all their (toothless) emission reduction targets. The current effort, COP28, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, has been a mixed bag as I understand it, and has noted that past promises have largely not been kept. That said, there is mounting pressure for commitments from participating countries to put a date certain on ending the use of carbon-based energy sources, and a growing sense of panic as the world looks more certain to pass that critical 1.5oC threshold. Based on past “results”, it’s a little difficult to believe that there is the political will (or even the technological capability) to prevent crossing the threshold.
I’m often called “Debbie Downer” (the Sat. Night Live character), and it’s for a reason: I have a dim view of the motivations of the powers that be (see my comment above about “the common good”), wherever the source of their power may reside.
Thus ends my current foray into the climate situation. I’ve found it helpful to retreat from current events (political and climate!) to keep my sanity. Be well!