Tag Archives: climate heating

European Space Agency launches new mission to measure climate change in unprecedented detail

Artist’s impression of TRUTHS. (Image: ESA and Airbus)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has new plans to study the Earth’s energy balance, in an effort to better understand and combat climate change. The Earth energy balance is the point between incoming energy from the Sun and outgoing energy from the Earth. As we emit more greenhouse gases, our planet’s atmosphere traps more heat, which is triggering global warming.

Named TRUTHS (Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies), the project is currently in the planning stages by the European Space Agency and its nations and will measure the amount of heat that gets trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The plan for the small satellite mission was introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland by the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA). Conceived by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), it will enable a space-based climate observing system which will “set a benchmark to detect changes in Earth’s climate system.”

“The mission will play a vital role in improving how we monitor climate change using satellite data and support the decisive climate action that global nations are negotiating at COP26,” said Beth Greenaway, head of Earth observation and climate at the UK Space Agency.

As well as establishing a new benchmark, the mission will create a climate and calibration observatory that will reduce some of the uncertainty in the Earth-observing data, creating a sort of space-based calibration lab. The benchmark is important because the more heat that the Earth keeps in, the warmer it gets, so it’s probably a good thing if scientists knew that point. TRUTHS will build additional confidence in climate studies by providing an element of a space-based climate observing system tied unequivocally to international standards. It will also enable researchers to better calibrate existing climate satellites.

“TRUTHS is an important mission as it will provide the gold standard of calibration for space-based Earth observation – a kind of ‘standards laboratory in space’,” said Justin Byrne, Head of Earth Observation and Science at Airbus Defence and Space UK. “With TRUTHS we also have the opportunity to further develop important areas of industrial capabilities across the UK space sector.”

Two main instruments would piggyback aboard the satellite: the Cryogenic Solar Absolute Radiometer and the Hyperspectral Imaging Spectrometer. These two pieces of equipment will gauge the incoming and reflected solar radiation to help detect alterations in Earth’s climate more quickly as well as generate the super-accurate reference system employing the benchmark level for other measurements and climate models.

“TRUTHS meets calls from the world’s satellite and climate community for robust high accuracy SI traceability (SI is an internationally recognized reference system that supports comparability of chemical measurements across a broad range of industries and sectors),” said Nigel Fox, United Kingdom TRUTHS Mission Scientist, at NPL. “A recent publication from the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites has highlighted the urgency for improved accuracy of observations from space, to help ensure our actions are having the desired impact.”

If everything goes as planned, the satellite could launch in 2029.

We just lived through the Earth’s hottest month on record

It was bound to happen. With temperatures rising year after year, largely as an effect of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, multiple parts of the globe have broken temperature records. Now, NOAA has recently announced that based on its measurements, July 2021 was the hottest month in recorded history.

“In this case, first place is the worst place to be,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “July is typically the world’s warmest month of the year, but July 2021 outdid itself as the hottest July and month ever recorded. This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”

Around the globe, temperatures were scorching. The combined land and ocean surface temperature was 1.67 degrees F (0.93 of a degree C) above the 20th-century average, making this the hottest July since records began 142 years ago. It was 0.02 of a degree F (0.01 of a degree C) higher than the previous record (set in July 2016, and tied in 2019 and 2020).

Several regional records were also set. Asia also had its hottest July on record (beating its 2010 record), while Europe had its second-hottest July on record. However, virtually all regions on the Earth had an all-time top-10 warmest July.

This was no coincidence or freak occurrence. Although some years are naturally cooler or hotter, the warming trend in the past 60 years is clear. Temperatures have been increasing steadily and show no sign of slowing down.

It’s telling that this past month was the hottest in recorded history — and we’ll likely be writing many more articles like this one in years to come — but ultimately, it’s the trend that matters more; and the trend is going up.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few decades, the reason why temperatures are rising is human activity. Man-made greenhouse gas emissions (mostly from burning fossil fuels) are causing a greenhouse gas effect, warming the atmosphere and every corner on Earth. Although we normally talk about global heating in the form of averages, some areas get much hotter than others.

It’s very (very) likely that 2021 will rank among the world’s 10 warmest years on record, and it’s also likely that most years to come will also be among the top 10 hottest years — if we don’t take action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. A recent comprehensive report from the IPCC concluded that humans are “unequivocally” causing global warming and that we need to amp our efforts as quickly as possible to avoid the worst effects of the damage.

“Scientists from across the globe delivered the most up-to-date assessment of the ways in which the climate is changing,” Spinrad said in a statement. “It is a sobering IPCC report that finds that human influence is, unequivocally, causing climate change, and it confirms the impacts are widespread and rapidly intensifying.”

‘Rivers’ of air are cracking open the Antarctic — for global warming, this is a problem

Atmospheric rivers are narrow corridors of moisture that move horizontally across the planet. They play an important role in the global water cycle — although these ‘rivers’ cover less than 10% of the planet’s atmosphere, they’re responsible for 90% of the global north-south water vapor transport. Now, researchers have found another effect of these atmospheric rivers: they open up holes in the Antarctic sea ice.

West Greenland ice melt is one of the main contributors to sea level rise.

Storms have been known to trigger large openings in sea ice — openings that can be tens or even hundreds of thousands of square kilometers across. But storms alone can’t explain why these openings (also called polynyas) form the way they do. Now, a team of researchers at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, believe they have the answer.

Diana Francis and colleagues analyzed major two major polynya events, from 1973 and 2017, finding that atmospheric rivers bringing heat and water vapor played a key role in the event. In 2017, one such river singlehandedly raised air temperatures in the Weddell Sea in West Antarctica by 10°C.

The interaction is complex. It’s not just that the rising temperatures melt and break the ice. The heat and water vapor also make storms more intense, which also contribute to ice breaking. So the atmospheric rivers contribute both directly and indirectly to this process.

Changes in the Antarctic ice sheet’s contribution to global sea level, 1992 to 2017. Credit: IMBIE/Planetary Visions/NASA.

Polynyas aren’t necessarily bad: on one hand, they can be good for the local environment.

“Polynyas strongly influence the physical and ecological dynamics of the Southern Ocean,” said co-author Kyle Mattingly, a post-doctoral researcher at the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “They serve as giant ‘windows’ in the sea ice that allow large amounts of heat to move from the ocean to the atmosphere, modifying regional and global ocean circulation. They also affect the timing and magnitude of phytoplankton (algae) blooms, which are the base of the marine food web.”

But from a climate perspective, this is troubling. The open sea is darker than the ice that covers it, which means it absorbs more heat, which can melt even more ice and so on, contributing to a local and even a global warming. To make matters even more concerning, global warming is expected to increase the frequency of atmospheric river events by around 50% if the current trends continue.

Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are growing thinner as a result of man-made greenhouse emissions. But the phenomenon isn’t always linear or clear. This is why understanding the interlinked processes that shape the Antarctic is so important for our overall understanding of climate change.

“Our study will pave the way for greater understanding of climate variability and climate change in these regions,” concludes Mattingly.

Journal Reference: “On the crucial role of atmospheric rivers in the two major Weddell Polynya events in 1973 and 2017 in Antarctica” Science Advances (2020). advances.sciencemag.org/lookup … .1126/sciadv.abc2695

France prepares for heatwaves of 25 °C (77 °F) mid-winter

France is experiencing record-high temperatures for this time of year, particularly in its southern regions. It’s exactly the type of event amplified by global warming, meteorologists explain.

It’s almost beach weather in Southern France. In February.

Several cities across France are reporting temperatures of 24°C-25°C (75-77 °F). Biarritz and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, two cities close to the ‎Pyrénées Mountains, as well as Tarbes and Perpignan are reporting record heat for what is supposed to be a winter month.

The heatwave comes in the context of an already mild winter. François Jobard, a meteorologist forecaster at Météo-France said that this is an “abnormal event”, marking the second-hottest start of February since 1900. Simply put, these are temperatures you’d expect to see in June, not February.

The warm wave of air is coming from the Azores and the subtropical Atlantic area, Jobard explains. While a cold spell is likely to follow this unusually warm period, it seems that the winter will continue to be relatively warm.

“We will continue to see temperatures that are higher than the normal average. This does not rule out several short, colder periods, but the trend will stay mild. After this peak of warmth, we will see a maximum on Monday (February 3), but on Tuesday (February 4) temperatures will cool down noticeably and be closer to normal.”

It’s always difficult to pinpoint singular events as being caused by global warming. However, this is exactly the type of event you’d expect to become more common as our planet continues to heat up. In Perpignan, the average high temperatures in February are around 12°C (54 °F), and they’re usually recorded towards the end of the month. Temperatures in Perpignan are expected to reach 26°C (74 °F) today.

It’s not just that global heating is driving up temperatures worldwide, but it is also causing imbalances in global wind circulation. Our planet heating up is causing heatwaves (and even cold spells) to become more frequent, so it’s much more likely to see temperature spikes such as the ones in southern France in the future.

“Overall we have warmer air masses than before, so with an equal meteorological situation, we tend to beat more records of smoothness than in the past “, Jobard concludes.

Scientists are concerned that the unusually warm weather might also trigger avalanches in the Alps.

Decades-old climate models accurately predicted global heating — but no one listened

The Earth’s climate system is extremely complex, comprised of many intertwined components. This is why there will be a certain degree of uncertainty when making projections about the climate’s future. Even so, our climate models are surprisingly reliable considering the simulated complexities. According to a new study, even some of the first models produced in the 1970s have accurately predicted the surface warming experienced today.

Climate spiral for the WMO global temperature dataset. Credit: Climate Lab Book, Ed Hawkins.

In many ways, climate models are a lot like weather forecasting, although the two should never be confused or used interchangeably. The famous saying ‘the climate is what you expect; the weather is what you get’ beautifully illustrates their fundamental differences. That being said, whereas weather models make predictions over specific areas and short timespans, climate models are broader and analyze long timespans (i.e. it averages the weather over a 30 year period).

Climate models employ mathematical equations that use thousands of data points in order to simulate the transfer of energy and water that takes place in climate systems. This enables scientists to predict how average conditions will change in a region over the coming decades. And, according to a new study, climate models have been surprisingly accurate.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution examined 15 climate models employed between 1979 and 2007, which made projections of how Earth’s surface would warm in the future as a result of rising CO2 emissions. The assessment also included the first four reports by the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC).

Carbon emissions are one of the most important inputs that scientists use to make projections about a region’s future climate. But although the physics of a climate model produced in the 1970s may be on point, it was challenging for the authors to estimate how much CO2 the world would emit decades later. Modern models are much more nuanced and, hence, more reliable).

For instance, recent data shows that global CO2 emissions were 150 times higher in 2011 than they were in 1850.

Boden, T.A., Marland, G., and Andres, R.J. (2017). Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2Emissions.

“Model projections rely on two things to accurately match observations: accurate modeling of climate physics, and accurate assumptions around future emissions of CO2 and other factors affecting the climate. The best physics‐based model will still be inaccurate if it is driven by future changes in emissions that differ from reality,” the authors wrote in their new study.

So, in order to establish the reliability of the climate models examined in the new study, the researchers inserted the actual amount of greenhouse gas emissions into these models. It turned out that these models provided accurate forecasts of global average temperatures — 14 of the 17 models were accurate, the researchers concluded.

“We find that climate models published over the past five decades were generally quite accurate in predicting global warming in the years after publication, particularly when accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric CO2 and other climate drivers. This research should help resolve public confusion around the performance of past climate modeling efforts, and increases our confidence that models are accurately projecting global warming,” the researchers wrote.

Since surface temperature is correlated with other climate patterns, such as rainfall and sea-level rise, the next step will be to examine how accurate previous climate models are at predicting shifts in regional climate patterns. After all, this is what truly matters for people.

Arctic sea ice concentration from NSIDC for Septembers during 1979-2018. Credit: Ed Hawkins.

What’s truly remarkable is that these decades-old models did a pretty good job of projecting future warming — while policymakers, along with part of the public, ignored their warnings. As such, confirmation that our models actually work should enable more aggressive action to mitigate the climate emergency.

The planet’s surface is already more than a degree Celsius warmer on average than prior to the Industrial Age, with some parts of the world experiencing even more heating — the Arctic, for instance, experiences twice the average global warming.

If current greenhouse emission trends continue to develop unabated, modern climate models forecast average warming of at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, which would mean a growing amount of disasters and huge challenges in feeding the world.

The findings were reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.