I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.
By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 6:55 AM GMT on January 04, 2012
2012 Climate Events: The start of the term
Last week I gave my summary of what I thought were the most important climate change discoveries or news of 2011. Of course, my choices were a bit arcane, but that’s me. I did not talk about the remarkable extreme weather and climate events of the last year – really last 2 years. Others have the knowledge and do that better than I, and, staying close to home, I will refer you to Jeff Master’s Blogs and Chris Burt's Blogs.
There were a couple of temperature facts that struck me: 1) The last month when the global mean monthly average was below the 20th century average was February 1985. There have been 321 consecutive months with the temperature above the 20th century average (link from NOAA), and 2) This graph from the World Meteorological Organization’s Provisional Statement of the Climate (link to statement):
Figure 1: From WMO Provisional Statement. Temperature difference (anomaly) calculated for 1961-1990 average. La Niña years are marked. La Niña years should be cooler that average based on natural variability. 2010 was the warmest La Niña year on record, and the 10th warmest year on record.
This graph shows a systematic trend of the years which should be cool, the La Niña years, getting warmer. This combination of a warming trend in the years which should be cool years and more than 25 years of global monthly means being above the long-term average are simple and compelling measurements of the warming earth. Plus remember during this time of persistent warm months, we had that period of the Sun being inactive, and hence, also being a cooling influence (an old blog to remind you of that).
This information coupled with measurements of increasing carbon dioxide emissions noted in the last entry, well I will not be teaching that we can avoid dangerous warming in the next century.
So what are the other things that have struck me as interesting going into the Winter 2012 semester at Michigan?
1) At the top of the list is a judicial ruling that the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard is, in fact, unconstitutional. It violates the interstate commerce clause that governs commerce between states. Frequently, environmental law evolves through commerce law and the assurance of open markets between the states. Ironically, at the center of the ruling is ethanol.
2) Next on the list is that in 2011 the leading U.S. export was gasoline and other refined petroleum products (from Wall Street Journal). This is a consequence of the recession, high gasoline prices, and more fuel efficient vehicles. This is significant enough that refineries in Philadelphia are likely to be closed. There are all sorts of interesting facets of this news – energy, economics, technology, and climate change.
3) Reindeer: The warming in the Arctic has been much higher than the average global warming. Here is the 2011 Arctic Report Card. This report documents large changes in the atmosphere, sea ice and ocean, and snow extent, glacier mass and permafrost. There are efforts to rescue reindeer. There is a threat because the warming temperatures means there are more ice storms, rather than the snow associated with colder temperatures. This encases their food. This combination of changes, persistent over many years, again, is indicative of cumulative changes and systematic warming.
4) That United Parcel Service has been able to reduce significantly their transportation carbon emissions, while increasing deliveries. This includes efforts on vehicle efficiency as well as attention to routing and traffic engineering. (Brown goes Green) This proves that we can make a difference on more than an individual scale, and that government investments at the margin are important for developing environmental policy. The government money mitigates risk.
5) And just to confuse us all: Manatees in Florida are threatened by cold temperatures. The deaths in 2011 were high with cold weather listed as the greatest threat. What does that say about weather, climate, climate variability and climate change? If I get the question, I will start here.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.
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