2016 in the Books

(Presented to the Board of Supervisors February, 2017)

“The last three years have demonstrated abundantly clearly that there is no change in the long-term trends since 1998. A prediction from 1997 merely continuing the linear trends would significantly under-predict the last two years. The difference isn’t yet sufficient to state that the trends are accelerating, but that might not be too far off.” – Gavin Schmidt, director NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies [1]

Tony Noerpel

In Figure 1, I’ve updated the global temperature anomaly using the NASA/GISS data set [2] through the end of 2016. It remains a stark reminder that global warming did not stop in 1998 as many pundits insisted.

In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb recommends we make forecasts, write them down and revisit them so that we can learn from what we got right as well as what we got wrong. He argues that most media pundits have a lousy track record for forecasting. In their book “Superforecasting” Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner make the same point. In the past couple of years, I’ve made some forecasts which unfortunately are holding up. I am thrilled to be in the money and besting media pundits even if they’ve set a rather low bar. But the implications are pretty dire for our children and grandchildren and indeed the earth biosphere, not just the consequences but the fact that our nation’s media, our politicians, lobbyists and other pundits are so clueless.

In September, 2012 [3] I estimated that at least 5 meters of sea level rise was locked in even if we had cut carbon emissions cold turkey. We didn’t of course. I based this on the paleo science research papers on the Eemian, Dansgaard-Oeschger events, mid Pliocene [see for example 4-5] and other Pleistocene interglacials. This forecast was recently supported by a paper in the journal Science by Jeremy Hoffman who is now at the Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond [6].

According to his research, the Eemian was slightly cooler than today globally but warmer at the poles. This is to be expected because of the difference in latitudinal insolation caused by the earth orbit variation. CO2 during this time according to ice cores was never higher than about 290 ppm and yet sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than today [7]. We are now above 400 ppm and we know the Arctic is much warmer than the global average and glaciers on the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica are unstable. We do not know how long this will take. Scientists seem to be all over the place on the timing. I really don’t know if the paleoclimate literature would help much since we are conducting an experiment that has never been tried before. Estimates range from 50 to 500 years.

In August, 2015 [8] I forecast that the global temperature anomaly in 2017 would be dominated by la Nina but would still be higher than the anomaly during the record El Nino year of 1998. NASA GISS director Gavin Schmidt came to the same conclusion this past September [9] and In January the U.K. Met Office made the same forecast as shown in Figure 2 below [10].

In July 2014 [11], I made the case that not only has global warming not stopped or paused in 1998 but in fact since then has if anything accelerated. Schmidt, in a recent post on the Real Climate blog cited above has come to the same conclusion [1]. He is not saying that there is enough of a record to confirm this just that an acceleration is more likely than a pause or slowdown.

In some respects these temperature anomalies and sea level rises are numbers we could adjust to if we acknowledged the reality of human-caused climate change, which of course, we are denying. Other species such as coral reefs will not be so lucky. In November 2016 [12] I forecast that the temperature would remain above a threshold for mass global coral bleaching events essentially forever. This is shown by the dotted red line in figure 1. I hope I’m wrong.

[1] http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2017/01/2016-temperature-records/

[2] http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata_v3/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt

[3] Tony Noerpel, Last Tango in Tampa, September 11, 2012, http://brleader.com/?p=9529

[4] Mid-Pliocene climate: Global temperatures 2-3o higher than today:
Robinson, M.; Dowsett, H. J.; Chandler, M. A. (2008). “Pliocene role in assessing future climate impacts” (PDF). Eos. 89 (49): 501–502. Bibcode:2008EOSTr..89..501R. doi:10.1029/2008EO490001. 

[5] Sea levels 25 m higher than today:
Dwyer, G. S.; Chandler, M. A. (2009). “Mid-Pliocene sea level and continental ice volume based on coupled benthic Mg/Ca palaeotemperatures and oxygen isotopes” (PDF). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 367 (1886): 157–168. Bibcode:2009RSPTA.367..157D. doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0222.

[6] Jeremy S. Hoffman, Peter U. Clark, Andrew C. Parnell, Feng He, Regional and global sea-surface temperatures during the last interglaciation, Science 355, 276-279 (2017) 20 January 2017.

[7] A. Dutton et al., Science 349, aaa4019 (2015).

[8] Tony Noerpel, Not Your Father’s El Nino, August 15, 2015, http://brleader.com/?p=17938

[9] Gavin Schmidt, http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2016/09/predicting-annual-temperatures-a-year-ahead/

[10] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/2016/global-forecast-2017/?WT.mc_id=Twitter_Content_Science

[11] Tony Noerpel, Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors, July 25, 2014 http://brleader.com/?p=15005

[12] Tony Noerpel, State of Corals, November 20, 2016, http://brleader.com/?p=21562

Figure 1 NASA GISS global temperature anomaly [2]

Figure 1 NASA GISS global temperature anomaly [2]

The U.K. Met Office's forecast for 2017's global annual average temperature. Credit: Met Office [7]

The U.K. Met Office’s forecast for 2017’s global annual average temperature. Credit: Met Office [7]