‘Powerful Evidence’ of Global Warming’s Effect on Seasons Found in Troposphere
By Daisy Dunne
Scientists studying the troposphere—the lowest level of the atmosphere—have found "powerful evidence" that climate change is altering seasonal temperatures.
A study published in Science finds that climate change has caused an increase in the difference between summer and winter temperatures across North America and Eurasia over the past four decades.
This could be the result of summer temperatures warming at a faster rate than winter temperatures in these parts of the world, the researchers say.
The findings show the "substantial human influence on Earth's climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes," another scientist says.
Most of the world's weather originates in the troposphere, a second scientist tells Carbon Brief, meaning that changes to seasonal temperatures could be affecting the likelihood of extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought.
Evidence shows that the seasons are changing. In Europe, for example, analysis of the first-emergence dates of more than 500 plant species shows that the first day of spring has advanced by six to eight days in the past three decades.
However, working out to what extent seasonal changes can be explained by climate change—rather than natural climate variability, caused by phenomena such as El Niño—presents more of a challenge.
To quantify the influence of climate change versus natural variability, scientists often carry out "attribution" studies.
The new study is the first to assess how climate change could be influencing seasonal temperature changes in the troposphere—a layer that covers roughly the first 17 kilometers (approximately 10.6 miles) of the atmosphere above the earth.
"Our results suggest that attribution studies with the changing seasonal cycle provide powerful evidence for a significant human effect on Earth's climate."
For the study, the researchers analyzed atmospheric temperature data recorded by satellites throughout the summer and winter months from 1979-2016. (Carbon Brief has published an explainer on how satellite temperature records compare with measurements at the earth's surface.)
The map below shows how the difference between summer and winter temperatures, expressed as an average per decade, has changed across the world.
On the map, dark red indicates where the difference between summer and winter temperatures have grown larger, while dark blue shows where the difference has grown smaller.
Temperature difference between summer and winter months (per decade) from 1979-2016. Red shows a large temperature difference between the seasons, while blue shows a small temperature difference. Source: Randel (2018) Data source: Santer et al. (2018)
The map shows that the difference between summer and winter temperatures has increased the most in mid-latitude regions, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
This is because, in these regions, atmospheric summer temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than winter temperatures—causing the disparity between the two seasons to grow larger and larger, the researchers say.
The northern hemisphere has experienced more summertime warming than the southern hemisphere because it contains more land, the researchers say. The presence of land means that less heat can be absorbed by the ocean—leading to amplified atmospheric warming.
The map also indicates that the eastern edges of both North America and Eurasia have experienced the greatest amounts of warming. This could be because, during the winter in these regions, warm air masses are carried from east to west—leading to milder winters along western continental margins, the researchers say.
Changes in temperatures are not as pronounced around the tropics because this region is not highly seasonal, the researchers say. Instead, the seasons in tropical regions are typically defined by rainfall ("wet" and "dry," for example), rather than by temperature.
In contrast, the difference between summer and winter temperatures around the poles has shrunk over the past four decades, the map shows. In these regions, winter temperatures are rising faster than summer temperatures, the research finds.
In the Arctic, this winter warming is partly influenced by the diminishing presence of sea ice during summer months, the researchers say. With less sea ice present, the ocean absorbs more heat—which is later released during the winter, the researchers say.
The reason that winter atmospheric warming may have accelerated above Antarctica is less clear. However, previous research suggests that the presence of polar clouds in the stratosphere (which sits above the troposphere) could be playing a role.
'Substantial Human Influence'
To understand to what extent the observed seasonal changes were influenced by human-caused climate change, the researchers compared the satellite results to climate models.
The model simulations, which ran from 1979-2016, included a range of natural factors that can influence tropospheric temperature, including the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions and aerosols. To include the impact of human-caused climate change, the researchers used a "business-as-usual" emissions scenario known as RCP8.5.
The results show that only simulations that include the impact of human-caused climate change could correctly predict the patterns of seasonal temperature change recorded by the satellites.
This indicates that humans are having a "substantial influence" on the temperatures in the troposphere, said Dr. William Randel, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in the research. In an accompanying perspectives article, he writes:
"[The] findings provide further markers of a substantial human influence on Earth's climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes."
However, it is not clear how temperature changes in the troposphere could affect conditions at the land surface, he adds:
"The connection between changes at the surface and the free troposphere awaits explanation."
One possible effect could be changes to the timing and likelihood of extreme weather events, said professor Neil Harris, head of the Centre for Environment and Agricultural Informatics at Cranfield University, who was not involved in the research. He told Carbon Brief:
"The paper significantly increases confidence that the observed changes in the troposphere—where all our weather is—are consistent with models and that they are of human origin. This gives more confidence in the existing findings of an increase frequency of extreme weather, such as more intense rainfall and more extreme summer hot spells."
Solar Eclipse: Why the Sun Is Not Responsible for Recent Climate Change https://t.co/LukE7BHXKE #SolarEclipse2017 #Eclipse2017 @NASA @SpaceX— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1503321539.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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