Earth’s Warming Climate

The year 2018 ranked as the fourth warmest since 1880. The three warmer years were 2016, 2017, and 2015 according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 1°Celsius (2°F). According to Schmidt and colleagues, this warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through human activities.

Surface temperature measurements of the Earth by NASA come from 6,300 locations. They include weather stations, ships and buoys at sea, and Antarctic research stations. The measurements produce the global average temperatures during the year. The baseline period from 1951 to 1980 is used as the mean value for comparison. The difference between the current readings and the 1951-1980 mean is accurate to within 0.1˚F with a 95% certainty level according to NASA.

This chart plots the monthly annual values from 1880 to 2018. Each time a record warm annual mean is set, it displays the year in the right margin. The most recent decades show rapid increases in the annual mean. It will cycle through the values a few times. Reload to see it again.

NASA Earth Observatory | Joshua Stevens | Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Scientists from multiple agencies agree on the rising temperature trend. The following plot shows annual mean variations from the 1951-1980 mean. Annual variations clearly stand out as wiggles in the plot. The steeper warming trend since 1980 is clear.

Five agencies are plotted together: NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). They all show the same trend and closely match the annual variations of each other.

NASA Earth Observatory | Joshua Stevens | Goddard Institute for Space Studies

I am encouraged when I read that more people believe global warming is taking place. Presently, about 70% of those in the U.S. agree. My post on the Yale public opinion survey is here. Are we going to do anything about it? Individually, we can take measures to reduce the carbon footprint of ourselves and homes. That isn’t enough.

Will our government agencies take on the challenges to guide the country toward better outcomes for the sake of our children and grandchildren? Will our nation join others to mount a global effort? At this time, I don’t see it happening. We should be leading the way with ideas and technologies. Give people direction. Motivate companies to be innovative about reducing the carbon footprint we impose upon this planet. How great would that be to see such a revolution? It could stimulate the economies of the world and give future generations a more livable planet.

Looking back from sometime in the future, will we see ourselves rising to meet the challenges? Or, will we merely see more people recognizing that they are in a worsening situation and doing nothing about it?


Electricity | How States Make It

How is electricity generated where you live? That question was addressed in a New York Times story by Nadja Popovich on 24 Dec 2018. Electricity is made from several energy sources including coal, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, water flow, wind, solar, and biomass. The mixture of sources for each state is quite different and depends on the availability and cost of resources for that state.

The article looked at the range of time from 2001 to 2017. The mixture of energy sources has varied over time for each state and for the United States as a whole. Here we see the sources charted for the United States. Note the increase trend of natural gas and the decrease of coal. Nuclear and hydroelectric have remained constant. Wind grew to 6%. Solar in yellow is barely visible in the lower right. Click image for detail.

New York Times | Nadja Popovich and Josh Williams | 24 Dec 2018

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Energy Consumption by the U.S.

It is important to look at the big picture. The way I see it, few people are aware of the sources of energy they utilize each day. Some energy is paid for directly such as gasoline for our cars. Gas for home heating, electricity for lights and air conditioning, etc. are often seen only as utility bills that come each month. What are the various energy sources we use?

Energy utilization was always an important topic in my physics classrooms. I wanted the students to know where their energy came from and how it was consumed by them and the general public. We discussed why efficiency was important. They were going to face and decide the actions on many complicated, technical, and politically charged issues in their future such as climate change. Those decisions would affect their quality of life and that of future generations.

We started with a simple flow diagram like the one below. The diagram shows how sources of energy are delivered to systems and devices that convert it into forms useful to the consumer. In the process, a useful amount of energy is delivered. But the conversions are never 100% efficient. As a result, much useless energy is wasted to the environment. We discussed examples of some common systems and how efficient they were. They soon got the point that increased efficiency and efforts to reduce wasted energy were actually very important issues. If we are unable to come up with more cheap sources, there are ways to reduce inefficiency and waste. Improved efficiency can be considered a source of energy and a lot of it. The diagram shows the gray box of Useless Wasted Energy quite large. It is actually much larger than the Useful Energy Output.

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Polar Sea Ice | Variations | Trends

A story on 16 Dec 2016 from the NASA Earth Observatory site said the Antarctic and Arctic sea ice amounts for November 2016 were both at record lows for that month. The Arctic is in the process of refreezing the surface sea ice as it goes into the winter months. The Antarctic is in the process of melting the sea ice as it goes into the summer months. A chart from the story shows the total amount of sea ice north and south from 1 Jan 1979 to 14 Dec 2016. There has been gradual decline in the total. For 2016, the total is significantly less for the last months of the year. An animated version of this chart is in the linked article.


National Snow and Ice Data Center |

Sea ice forms from water already in the oceans. Changes to the total does not alter sea level. Melting of land based ice drains into the oceans and does raise sea level. The decrease in total sea ice is due to shifting winds and warmer temperatures of the water. The underlying reasons and prognosis for future effects is an area of intense scientific study.

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Climate Encyclical | Will It Move Us To Act?

There was much anticipation about the recent encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change. You can see and read the document at this link. No doubt you have seen and heard the news about it with some analysis of what is contained in it. I offer my impressions of the broad picture described in the 184 page document.

I’ve written a lot about climate change. It is one of the most important challenges faced by mankind. It will force us to deal with issues we already know about and some that we have yet to encounter. It will not go away if we ignore it.

Whether the encyclical is accepted by the world of Catholic leaders and followers will only be known by our actions in the future. There was a flurry of attention for a few days. Like many stories today, the attention has faded. I hope its messages are not forgotten.

Each chapter of the encyclical addresses aspects of the climate change problem I feel are very important. The document does not lay out a prescription for what humanity should do. It does serve as a reminder of our responsibilities to the Earth and to those less fortunate who do not have the means to help themselves easily. We all need reminders and guidance in those areas.

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Weather 2015 | Extreme and Variable

Remember the record snowfall this winter in Boston and surroundings? It seemed endless. The record total for Boston was 108.6 inches. This image is from early February.

Charles Krupa | Associated Press

Charles Krupa | Associated Press

This map from NOAA shows liquid precipitation over the region for the recent 180 days since late November 2014. There are widespread locations with 20 inches. One in yellow near Boston had over 25 inches.


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