Climate Change Update: 2016 Broke Extreme Weather Record

According to the most recent statement of the World Meteorological Organization, our planet is not on a good path. Last year, man-made pollution forced temperatures into an extreme weather record. Unfortunately, the chart-buster heat that awarded 2016 as “The Hottest Year Ever Recorded” hasn’t stopped. Continuing into 2017, the unsettling warming trend is pushing Earth into unknown territory.

The organization’s climate evaluation of 2016 was published on Tuesday, 21 March 2017, reporting some concerning facts. It appears we’re faced with rising sea levels, unprecedented hot weather across the globe, and record-low ice mass at both poles. While emissions from human activities remain the main driver of climate change, a powerful El Niño (a natural climate cycle) contributed to the waves of heat in 2016.

Breaking the Extreme Weather Record

Even though the El Niño effects are now diminishing, we continue to witness weather extremes. For example, the U.S. registered unforeseen temperature records last month; climate scientists even used the term ‘freaky February’ to describe the unusually warm winter. At the same time, polar heatwaves keep on melting the planet’s ice cover, driving it to new lows.

Even if the 2017 El Niño will be less powerful, the odds are not looking good. David Carlson, head of the WMO’s World Climate Research Program, is still worried about the exceptional changes we’re noticing across the planet. It proves we have a long way to go before we can truly understand the climate system and the many factors that contribute. Such remarkable weather modifications has scientists cornered.

“We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said Mr. Carlson.

According to Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist with the University of Arizona, Earth is currently experiencing major changes due to human-driven alterations of the atmosphere. Historically, civilization flourishes on stability and tends to decline in times of drastically changing conditions. Therefore, deeming the WMO report ‘startling’ is an understatement. The need for united action against climate change has never been so high, and the stakes are our own livelihoods.

Climate Change & The Trump Administration

In light of the recent WMO report, some scientists raised their voices to criticize the U.S. President’s stance towards global warming. Even though new data keeps on proving that human activities have a huge influence on the climate system, Donald Trump and senior Republicans in Congress keep on ignoring it. Professor Sir Robert Watson, a respected climate scientist at the University of East Anglia, is one of the loudest voices speaking against Trump’s position.

“Our children and grandchildren will look back on the climate deniers and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy, when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of a transition to a low-carbon economy,” stated Sir Watson.

The argument is against Trump’s intention to cut the budget for researching climate change. However, Petteri Taalas, the secretary-general at WMO, said that only persistent investment in climate research can advance scientific knowledge. There’s no other way to keep up with the quick pace of climate change.

WMO Report: Key Findings

According to the data reported by the WMO, El Niño created in 2016 approximately 0.1 °C to 0.2 °C warming. That is, in addition to the long-term temperature spikes that human activity had already caused. The warmest year on record, 2016 experienced an unsettling 1.1 °C increase above the pre-industrial period. Taalas confirmed this rise in global temperature is compatible with other changes scientists have observed in the current climate system.

  • Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are breaking records year after year, highly influenced by man-made activities and air pollution.
  • In November 2016, Earth’s sea ice coverage dropped over 4 million square kilometers below average.
  • At the end of the last winter, Arctic sea ice had achieved its lowest maximum cover (according to records going back to 1979).
  • Southern Africa and parts of Asia experienced some unbearable heatwaves, while parts of the Middle East saw record high temperatures.
  • Between November 2014 and February 2016, sea levels increased by 15 millimeters, reaching a new record high. Until recently, the trend used to be around 3.5 mm a year.
  • Due to the overall warming of the seas, coral reefs continue to experience severe bleaching and even death.
  • Both north-east Brazil and Southern Africa started 2016 with severe drought, while the same year represented the driest on record over the Amazon Basin.

The WMO report also cited highly catastrophic wildfires around the world, including the one that ravaged Fort McMurray in Albert Canada. After burning for two months, the total toll rose to 590,000 destroyed hectares, 2,400 crashed buildings, and billions of dollars in losses. Hurricane Matthew, however, was the most destructive meteorological calamity last year. It killed at least 546 people in Haiti, leaving a whopping 1.4 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Consequences of Extreme Weather Record

But that’s not all. The WMO evaluation also found record levels of greenhouse gas CO2. In 2015, it achieved a chart-breaking 400 parts per million, constantly on the rise due to the burning of fossil fuels. Given that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continue to break records each year, scientists are more and more convinced of the impact of human activities on the climate system.

As we rolled into 2017, the WMO continued to observe temperature records. The trend was especially visible in the U.S., where February was unusually warm. On the other side of the globe, many Australian states experienced extended, extreme heatwaves. The poles, however, seem to have witnessed the starkest consequences, as ice caps are on decline.

In turn, these changes affect the weather patterns around the world, since the waves in the jet stream are severely impacted. (The jet stream is a swift-moving line of air that contributes to temperature regulation.) In response to the changing climate, the United States, Canada, and other areas have experienced exceptionally balmy temperatures. The effect was reversed in warmer climates. The Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, for instance, have already weathered some unusually cold months this year.

According to Julienne Stroeve, a professor at UK’s University College London, the conditions at the Arctic pole have been dropping to record lows starting in October. The unfavorable weather patterns have persisted for six consecutive months, which was unheard of in the past four decades of satellite data record.

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William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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