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Recent extreme heat events in the Middle East have climate scientists worried about future climate-related catastrophes. Temperatures have climbed above 115 F across the region this summer and Kuwait and Iraq recently recorded most likely the hottest temperatures ever in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Temperatures simulated by the GFS model in the Middle East reached 129 F on Friday, July 22. WeatherBell.com
Record-breaking extreme heat—estimated to have claimed more lives than wars—has worsened over the years and recent studies have suggested future climate change will make parts of the region uninhabitable. A sergeant major in Iraq equated the heat wave to a weapon of mass destruction, saying, "It makes my skin crawl. It is killing us."
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: Pacific Standard, Mark Schapiro op-ed
By Astrid Caldas
There is just so much to digest in the latest release of monthly global temperature data by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), I thought I needed to say something. I just don't know where to start, so bear with me, please, as this news of temperature records being broken (yet again) is profoundly sobering and worth understanding in detail. It is all hard to grasp and chew on, so I will try to go bit by bit here …
1. It Is Not Just the Numbers
June 2016 was 0.90 C (1.62 F) above the global 20th century average according to NOAA—not a huge amount compared to the previous months in 2016, which were all a record also. But it still beat the previous June record, set in 2015, which is to say yeah, temperatures are still rising. No surprise here.
But look at the Arctic—it was hit hard. The darkest reds are up there. And what is in the Arctic, among other things? Arctic sea ice and Arctic vegetation. We will get to that further down. The Arctic is also extremely important for the Earth's climate and weather patterns, sea level rise and other things: what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic, as is well explained in this blog.
2. The First Six Months of 2016 Have Set the Stage for a Very Possible Record Warm Year
The period of January-June 2016 had average temperatures 1.3 C (2.4 F) higher than the late 19th century. Every single month in 2016 so far had record warm temperatures for that month. It is no surprise then—again—that it is sure looking like 2016 will be the warmest year ever, a possible La Niña notwithstanding (the probability of La Niña developing—which might lead to some cooling effect on global temperatures—has been lowered from 70 percent to 60 percent).
Gavin Schmidt of NASA stated that "Six month average for January-June 2016 […] was a huge record" and went on to ask: "What does the first 6 months imply for 2016 annual mean? Still a ~99 percent chance of a new annual record."
No kidding. We are likely in for a whopper of a hot year. But … look at the Arctic again and the sight is even more striking. For the period of January-June, it was the only area in the globe where temperatures were 4 C or 5 C above average. I don't know about you, but I do think that is a lot of heat for a cold place.
3. June 2016 Saw the Highest Sea Surface Temperature Since 1880
The June sea surface temperature global average was 1.39 F above the 20th century monthly average, breaking the previous record set in 2015 by 0.05 F—yeah, sea surface temperatures are also still rising. June 2016 is also the 40th consecutive June with global ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
That warm water can have various effects on the climate, directly or indirectly. In fact, warmer fall temperatures in the Arctic while the ocean is still warm may affect not only on the sea ice formation for the following winter but also weather patterns.
4. Five Out of These First Six Months Also Saw the Lowest Monthly Sea Ice Extent Since Recording Began in 1979
The onset of early melt of sea ice in the Arctic set the stage for record levels of sea ice extent in the first six months of 2016. March was the only month that was not a record low. This is actually not surprising—sea ice extent has not been above-average in the first six months of any year since 2001. According to NOAA, June Arctic sea ice extent is decreasing at an average rate of 3.6 percent per decade. June 2016 was 100,000 square miles smaller than the previous record set in 2010.
5. Warmer Arctic Temperatures are Changing the Landscape
The warmer Arctic is leading to an increase in photosynthetic activity in the northernmost regions. The "greening of the tundra" has been observed between 1984 and 2012 (and continued since) and has been attributed to longer growing seasons and less harsh winters. The structure of the vegetation is changing and that can have multiple effects not only on the vegetation itself but on the ecosystem as a whole. The interactions between vegetation and animals that depend on them can be severely disrupted and the consequences unknown.
These are facts not to be taken lightly, but are also a call for action. We must act now in order to prevent more changes to happen. I leave you with this awesome animation from NASA, showing the beauty of our planet that may still be spared a 2°C warming if we all work toward more renewable energy and less use of coal, gas and oil.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A huge wildfire burning since Friday in the Santa Clarita Valley area north of Los Angeles has tripled in size over the weekend to 33,172 acres, destroying at least 18 homes and leaving one man dead. More than 1,500 homes have been evacuated as 1,673 firefighters battle the Sand fire.
So far, they have managed to contain only 10 percent of the fire. Los Angeles County deputy fire chief John Tripp warned that up to 45,000 homes could be evacuated if the fire is not contained. Another wildfire has burned more than 10,000 acres near Big Sur in central California.
Extreme heat and years of ongoing drought, both linked to climate change, are increasing wildfire risk in California and 10 of the state's 20 largest wildfires on record have all burned in the last 10 years.
Background: Climate Signals
June has continued the unprecedented heat streak for the 14th month, with globally averaged temperatures being a full 1.62 F (0.9 C) warmer than the average across the 20th century, according to the latest data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and confirmed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The effects of last year's El Niño, which contributed to spike in temperatures, is fading but the record heat streak over the Earth has remained. According to NOAA, the first half of 2016 was 0.36 F (0.2 C) warmer than last year and this year is on track to becoming the third consecutive year to set a new global heat record.
This image was taken aboard a NASA research flight over the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic on July 16.NASA
Another indication of warming is Greenland's melting ice. A satellite study has also shown that Greenland has lost a shocking 1 trillion tons of ice in just four years between 2011 and 2014. Ice loss from Greenland, which has been 9 trillion tons in the past century, may have contributed to a full inch of sea-level rise in the last 100 years.
For a deeper dive:
Most states in the U.S. have begun witnessing a dramatic increase in dangerous heat days since the 1970s and they could double across the country by 2050.
A study by Climate Central, States at Risk, shows that the hottest parts of the country, including Texas, Arizona, Colorado and Florida have seen the largest increase in extreme heat days, which include high temperatures and high humidity.
In Florida, which faces the greatest risk of rising temperatures, cities such as Miami, Tampa and Naples will see 100-plus days of extreme heat by 2050.
Extreme heat is the most pervasive threat, affecting every state, particularly in the Southeast and along the Gulf Coast where the combination of heat and humidity is projected to cross thresholds dangerous for human health within the next decade. Compared with today, by 2050, 11 states are projected to have an additional 50 or more heat wave days per year, two will have an additional 60, and Florida is expected to have 80. Extreme heat is the threat where states are least prepared overall; only seven states have taken strong action to prepare for extreme heat risks.
Texas currently faces the highest overall summer drought threat of any state, by a substantial margin. By 2050, however, nine states—Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Washington—are projected to face a greater summer drought threat than Texas does today. Some, like Colorado, Washington, and Michigan, are reasonably well prepared overall, earning a B or higher based on their good understanding of the risks they face and plans they have made for adaptation. Others, like Texas and Montana have taken little action, scoring a D- and an F respectively.
The growing threat from wildfires is concentrated in four states, Texas, California, Arizona, and Nevada, where more than 35 million people live in the high threat zone where wildlands and development converge. But climate-driven wildfire threats are not restricted to Western states. Florida, North Carolina and Georgia combine for another 15 million people at risk, and four Southeastern states, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, all face above average increases in wildfire risks by 2050. Current preparedness for wildfires is very high, but future threats are poorly understood or planned for; 15 of the 24 states analyzed do not have a climate adaptation plan that includes wildfires.
Florida and California have the largest vulnerable populations at risk with 1.5 and 1.3 million people living in the inland FEMA 100-year floodplain respectively. Georgia is third most at risk with 570,000 people. More than half of all states assessed (17 out of 32) have taken no action to plan for future climate change related inland flooding risks or implemented strategies to address them.
Florida and Louisiana face enormous coastal flooding risks, far greater than any of the other 22 coastal states. Florida alone has 4.6 million people projected at risk (living in the100-year coastal floodplain) by 2050. Louisiana has 1.2 million. Overall, states are more prepared for coastal flooding than for any other threat. Florida, however, is not among them. Florida earned an F for coastal flood preparedness, due to its average level of readiness in the face of enormous current and future risks. Louisiana, which is far better prepared, earned a B-.