By Tim Radford
It is official. The world is warming according to expectations. The so-called and much debated "pause" in global warming is over. And the culprit that tried to cool the planet in spite of ever-rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
Blame it on the Pacific Ocean. It went into a not-so-hot phase, part of a long-term natural cycle, which has now come to an end. This explains the apparent slowdown in the rate of global warming. The verdict comes from the UK Met Office, which is host to the oldest continuous record of temperatures in the world, and which pioneered weather science.
"After a period during the early 2000s when the rise in global mean temperature slowed, the values in 2015 and 2016 broke records and passed 1°C above pre-industrial levels," said professor Stephen Belcher, chief scientist at the Met Office. "Data from the Met Office shows that the long-term rate of global warming has now returned to the level seen in the second half of the 20th century."
The so-called hiatus in global warming between 1999 and 2014 was a phenomenon much hailed by climate deniers as evidence that global warming did not exist, or had stopped. But it also provided the climate scientists, oceanographers, glaciologists and weather forecaster of the planet with a puzzle: why did the atmospheric temperature not conform to expectations? What followed would provide academics with a case study of how science is done: researchers around the world looked at the problem in a score of ways, and delivered what may be a dozen tentative answers.
Global warming records
First, the record: for the second half of the 20th century, the world warmed, steadily and consistently, in line with predictions based on the greenhouse effect. That is, carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere through profligate fossil fuel use since the Industrial Revolution, was trapping infrared radiation and warming the planet.
But for the first decade and a half of this century, the rate of warming slowed. Some researchers reasoned that the effect would be temporary while others considered the evidence again and wondered if there could be said to have been a slowdown at all: the evidence was either illusory or only looked like a slowdown considered in the short term. Other researchers argued that even if average rates of rise seemed to have dropped, the number of extremes of heat had increased or that an increase in the number of volcanic eruptions might be masking solar radiation and lowering the temperatures.
Role of oceans
For three years, global temperature records were broken, each year hotter than the last and in 2016, the global average temperature stood at 1°C above the long-term industrial average. Part of the explanation is that global temperatures were heightened by a natural phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño. But for a decade or so earlier in the century, another Pacific feature was slowly unfolding: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which blows warm and cool, in a cyclic pattern. And this time, said Met Office scientists, it damped down the rate of global warming.
This year is unlikely to break all records. But, the Met Office chiefs said, the rate of warming has increased: the world will go on getting hotter.
"The end of the recent slowdown in global warming is due to a flip in Pacific sea-surface temperatures," said Adam Scaife, who heads monthly-to-decadal prediction for the Met Office. "This was due to a change in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation which entered its positive phase, warming the tropics, the west coast of North America and the globe overall."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.