Watch 131 years of global temperatures in 26 seconds

  • 31 Jan 2012, 11:20
  • Christian Hunt

It's one thing knowing the planet has been warming at around   0.13°C per decade for the last 50 years. It's another to see it mapped out. Over the past 100 years, the planet has been warming, and over the 26 seconds of this video, from NASA, you can see what this sustained warming trend looks like.

The video also shows that warming is not uniform or consistent - there are periods where parts of the world get cooler, and where temperatures stand still for a while. When climate skeptics make the argument that '  global warming has stopped' because temperature rise has slowed in the last few years, they're relying on their audience not knowing that temperatures can behave in all sorts of ways - because of natural climate cycles, or things like volcanoes which cool the planet by releasing sulfur into the atmosphere.

But here, despite the fluctuations, you can see the warming trend quite clearly. In this animation of temperature data from 1880-2011, reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average. 

What appears obvious to the eye is also backed up by scientific analysis - the world continues to warm. Scientists believe that until we cut the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere temperatures are almost certain to continue to rise.

The NASA results are also in close agreement with the other major global temperature measurments, as you can see from this comparison chart from the World Meteorological Society. All the major datasets show that the 2000's were the hottest decade on record - a finding confirmed by last year's Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. 

Compare _datasets


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Met Office criticises 'misleading' Mail article predicting 'mini ice age'

  • 30 Jan 2012, 18:00
  • Christian Hunt and Verity Payne

Columnist David Rose's latest article for the Mail on Sunday - " Forget global warming - it's Cycle 25 we need to worry about (and if NASA scientists are right the Thames will be freezing over again)" - repeats what is becoming a common misconception in the tabloid press: that a drop in solar activity is about to cause a 'mini ice age'.

In the piece, Rose so badly misrepresents the Met Office's work that they have taken the unusual step of  responding to it on their blog, describing his article as containing

"numerous errors in the reporting of published peer reviewed science undertaken by the Met Office Hadley Centre."

Rose has a poor  track record on accurately portraying climate science. This latest effort doesn't improve matters.

The sun and climate change - the story so far

The sun's energy fluctuates, rising and falling on an 11-year cycle. This has an effect on the planet's climate. The graph below shows how solar activity has changed over time:

NASA ssn

Source: NASA

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NASA scientists: Expect record-breaking warm years soon

  • 27 Jan 2012, 16:07
  • Verity Payne

Source: NASA

We're barely out of 2011, and already there's plenty of discussion about last year's temperatures and how they fit with the global warming trend.

Over the past few weeks, the major temperature datasets have been giving their assessment of how temperatures behaved last year. First up: the UK's Met Office, who released preliminary data putting 2011 as the UK's  second warmest year on record - (remember that any one year doesn't tell us much about the long term trend, as we pointed out at the time, although lots of hot years together do).

Then the global temperature records starting coming, with the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releasing their global stats for 2011. Their global temperature dataset put 2011 as the  joint eleventh warmest year since records began in 1880. They also highlighted that 2011

"...Marks the 35th consecutive year, since 1976, that the yearly global temperature was above average...Including 2011, all eleven years of the 21st century so far (2001-2011) rank among the 13 warmest in the 132-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than 2011."

Now it is the turn of the other major US global temperature dataset, from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). They put 2011 as the ninth warmest year on record, and also highlighted that

"The first 11 years of the 21st century experienced notably higher temperatures compared to the middle and late 20th century... The only year from the 20th century in the top 10 warmest years on record is 1998."

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Climate change - not just about blueberries

  • 26 Jan 2012, 18:00
  • Christian Hunt & Robin Webster

It is a truth often acknowledged (in certain sections of the media) that we don't need to worry about climate change, because we can 'just adapt' to whatever happens.

The trouble with this argument is that often it is just way of saying 'we should do nothing', without actually coming out and saying that.

Well, a bumper report from DEFRA out today begins to map out what the logic of that argument entails. The ' UK Climate Change Risk Assessment' is the 2,000 page culmination of a 3-year project looking at what might happen in the UK as a result of climate change - both positive and negative. Primarily aimed at government departments, its production was a legal requirement under the 2008 Climate Change Act and its aim is to inform what action the Government takes to reduce the risks and seize the biggest opportunities.

There are plenty of uncertainties in the report, and plenty of the predictions are made with low or medium certainty. But there are also clear warnings, made with high confidence, about changes which will have a significant impact on the UK in the near future.

There is 'high confidence' that there will be 'high negative consequences' from changes in flooding patterns as soon as the 2020s, for example. There is also high confidence that agricultural land is going to be threatened by flooding and coastal erosion, and that keeping people cool in cities is going to get more difficult.

Probably the clearest message in the report is over flooding, where there are some fairly startling figures. For example - in England and Wales, damage costs from flooding are currently 1.2 billion per annum. By the 2020s this will have risen to between 1.5 and 2.5 bn (high confidence). By the 2050s, the cost will be between 1.8 bn and 6.8 bn, and by the 2080s between 2bn and 12bn.

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The Express: Climate change is just a 1,500 year cycle

  • 25 Jan 2012, 17:00
  • Christian Hunt

The Express today features an impassioned  defence of Lord Nigel Lawson, chairman of the climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) from journalist Adrian Lee.

Obviously we don't agree with aiming 'venomous' or 'vitriolic' messages at anyone. But separate to any online ire directed at Lawson, there have been many reasonable comments about Lawson and the GWPF which have taken issue with their portrayal of climate science and their expertise on climate and energy matters.

In defending Lawson, the Express article itself makes a series of errors which appear to demonstrate an inaccurate understanding of climate science, and some basic failings of fact checking on points about shale gas.

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Shale gas for breakfast

  • 25 Jan 2012, 09:00
  • Robin Webster

With energy issues high on both the national and international agenda, it was energy policy for breakfast yesterday as the BBC's Today programme turned its attention to oil, coal, gas and renewable power.

Shortly after 7am, Today discussed the potential impact of sanctions in Iran on international oil supply - including the implications for "the price we pay at the petrol pump". This was followed by a segment reporting on "how the discovery of shale gas is changing the debate around energy and climate change" - a pretty good, clear explanation of some the issues that shale gas presents, as a gas glut takes over the US.

Using the case study of what has already happened in the States, science correspondent Tom Feilden posited that

"the discovery of vast reserves of shale gas, or more accurately the development of new drilling technologies to have at a stroke rewritten the established rules and politics of energy supply"

Oxford University professor and shale gas advocate Dieter Helm was on hand with a simple explanation - as fossil fuel prices have risen, we've got better at getting harder-to-extract fossil fuels out of the ground. He argued that the era of fossil fuels is not, as some have thought, coming to an end but rather - "we're awash with the stuff" - "the earth's crust is riddled with fossil fuels" and

"stunning changes in our fossil fuel markets...create a world in which we've got plenty to fry the planet several times over"

So will shale gas be "frying the planet several times over"? The point was picked up later in the programme in a debate between climate skeptic Lord Lawson and  and ex-chair of Friends of the Earth Tony Juniper.

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Shale gas: can it be a bridge to renewables or will it extend reliance on fossil fuels?

  • 23 Jan 2012, 21:00
  • Robin Webster

What will be the future impacts of our new-found ability to get gas out of shale? In the US, shale gas is becoming an increasingly important energy source, and such has been the expansion of production over the past decade that gas prices have fallen dramatically as a result of what analysts are calling a " shale-driven glut".

But what does that mean for us, and could the same thing happen in the UK? Here, shale gas currently has the status of a classic environmental controversy, rather than a big energy transformation.

While a vocal lobby argues that shale gas has the possibilty to bring " cheap, plentiful and green" energy to British shores, their opponents argue that the controversial extraction process (known as 'fracking') is environmentally damaging, and that shale gas is a distraction from renewables and energy efficiency. Even more tantalising to the media is the prospect of confrontation between a Texan company and the tweed belt of the Home Counties over proposals to prospect for the gas.

This was the stage for the latest in a series of seminars from Policy Network, this one entitled "shale gas: positive breakthrough or environmental disaster?" The event gave the platform to author of the Politics of Climate Change and Policy Network fellow traveller Anthony Giddens, as well as emeritus professor of petroleum policy at Dundee Professor Paul Stevens, and James Elston of Palladian Energy (which seems to be a shale gas consultancy).

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Q: Compared to man-made climate change, how much will the Sun influence the climate? A: Not much.

  • 20 Jan 2012, 13:48
  • Verity Payne

Climate scientists  have found that the 11-year solar activity cycle has only a small effect on global average temperature, compared to man-made climate change. Now another paper, in press and currently available on the  Journal of Geophysical Research website, adds to the evidence supporting this conclusion.

The sun's activity waxes and wanes on a roughly 11-year cycle. Since around the beginning of the 20th century solar activity has been relatively high, so scientists have labelled the period a 'grand solar maximum', or the 'Modern Maximum'. There have also been 'grand solar minima' - periods where solar activity is unusually low. Perhaps the most notable of these is the 'Maunder Minimum', a 70-year period spanning 1645-1715 which saw virtually no sunspots.

Scientists think it probable that the Modern Maximum is nearing its end, and that we could even be heading towards another Maunder-style minimum, but predicting how solar activity might change in the future is notoriously difficult.

The prospect of a future grand solar minimum has led some to ask whether it could 'buy us some time' in mitigating against man-made climate change ( here and  here for example), so it is important to fully investigate plausible future changes in solar activity and its impact on climate - hence this new study.

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How BP's Energy Outlook 2030 tells the story behind the end of Keystone XL

  • 19 Jan 2012, 18:27
  • Ros Donald

Republicans and the conservative press have panned Barack Obama's decision on Wednesday to deny Canada tar sands company Transcanada the right to build a pipeline connecting the two countries, labelling it a hit to job creation and energy security. Meanwhile, 

But the market has barely noticed - with Transcanada's stock declining by just one per cent today - possibly because Obama has left open the possibility of reapplication for permission by the company. More broadly, it's unlikely that the death of the Keystone project will leave the US dependent on oil imports from further afield, as BP's  Energy Outlook 2030report, released today, suggests.

That the pipeline was essential to US energy independence was a key argument of the pro-Transcanada lobby, but it looks like it might have been a bit of a red herring. 

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Planet hacking: not just a technological challenge

  • 19 Jan 2012, 16:00
  • Bárbara Mendes-Jorge

Although geoengineering has many fervent champions and detractors, more than any 'pro' or 'con' it is most importantly defined by uncertainty.

Scientists working in the area say that there are  no methods which currently offer solutions to resolving climate change, and there's a distinct lack of governance and guidelines on the issue in the worlds of both science and politics. So progressive think tank The Policy Network tackled the topic last week as part of a  series of seminars on politics and climate change, promising a  non-partisan look at the areas of concern surrounding geoengineering.

Chaired by Anthony Giddens (ex-LSE director and author of Politics of Climate Change), the event's speakers were three Royal Society bigwigs: John Shepherd (former chair of its geoengineering group) Martin Rees (a former President) and James Wilson (former director of the RS's Science Policy Centre) who summarised the current status of geoengineering, beginning with:

"None of the geoengineering methods evaluated offers an immediate solution to the problem of climate change, or reduces the need for continued emissions reductions".

That was the conclusion of an influential 2009  Royal Society geoengineering report, and it still stands today, Shepherd said.


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