A Major Surge in Atmospheric Warming Is Probably Coming in the Next Five Years

CharityMy Comments: I claim no technical expertise regarding meteorological events. But I do get alarmed when certain people get put in critical decision making roles who have less expertise than I do. People like the Senator from Oklahoma who is now the leading advocate in the US Congress regarding what to do about climate change. And our well read Governer of Florida, Rick Scott. Read this and tell me we should NOT be taking at least limited steps to mitigate the threat, regardless of the source.

Tue Mar 03, 2015  / by Nafeez Ahmed

My heart stopped for a few moments when I read this article from Motherboard. I pay attention to what is happening with our precarious position that we are in when it comes to climate change. I pay so much attention that at times I can’t sleep due to what is happening to our air conditioners, the Arctic and Antarctica. I want to know and I need to know just as much as some of my health issues need to be known so that I know what I am up against and can either adapt or die. But still, I was hoping we would have more time to try to put the brakes on this slow moving train wreck. Instead, all hell is going to break loose I fear.

In 2011, a paper in Geophysical Research Letters tallied up the total warming data from land, air, ice, and the oceans. In 2012, the lead author of that study, oceanographer John Church, updated his research. What Church found was shocking: in recent decades, climate change has been adding on average around 125 trillion Joules of heat energy to the oceans per second.

How to convey this extraordinary fact? His team came up with an analogy: it was roughly the same amount of energy that would be released by the detonation of two atomic bombs the size dropped on Hiroshima. In other words, these scientists found that anthropogenic climate is warming the oceans at a rate equivalent to around two Hiroshima bombs per second. But as new data came in, the situation has looked worse: over the last 17 years, the rate of warming has doubled to about four bombs per second. In 2013, the rate of warming tripled to become equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs every second.

So not only is warming intensifying, it is also accelerating. By burning fossil fuels, humans are effectively detonating 378 million atomic bombs in the oceans each year—this, along with the ocean’s over-absorption of carbon dioxide, has fuelled ocean acidification, and now threatens the entire marine food chain as well as animals who feed on marine species. Like, er, many humans.

According to a new paper from a crack team of climate scientists, a key reason that the oceans are absorbing all this heat in recent decades so well (thus masking the extent of global warming by allowing atmospheric average temperatures to heat more slowly), is due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), an El Nino-like weather pattern that can last anywhere between 15-30 years.

In its previous positive phase, which ran from around 1977 to 1998, the PDO meant the oceans would absorb less heat, thus operating as an accelerator on atmospheric temperatures. Since 1998, the PDO has been in a largely negative phase, during which the oceans absorb more heat from the atmosphere.

So at some point in the near future, the PDO will switch from its current negative phase back to positive, reducing the capacity of the oceans to accumulate heat from the atmosphere. That positive phase of the PDO will therefore see a rapid rise in global surface air temperatures, as the oceans’ capacity to absorb all those Hiroshima bomb equivalents declines—and leaves it to accumulate in our skies. In other words, after years of slower-than-expected warming, we may suddenly feel the heat.

So when will that happen? No one knows for sure, but at the end of last year, signs emerged that the phase shift to a positive PDO could be happening right now.

In the five months before November 2014, measures of surface temperature differences in the Pacific shifted to positive, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is the longest such positive shift detected in about 12 years. Although too soon to determine for sure whether this is, indeed, the beginning of the PDO’s switch to a new positive phase, this interpretation is consistent with current temperature variations, which during a positive PDO phase should be relatively warm in the tropical Pacific and relatively cool in regions north of about 20 degrees latitude.

In January 2015, further signs emerged that the PDO is right now in transition to a new warm phase. “Global warming is about the get a boost,” ventured meteorologist Eric Holthaus. Recent data including California’s intensifying drought and sightings of tropical fish off the Alaskan coast “are further evidence of unusual ocean warming,” suggesting that a PDO transition “may already be underway a new warm phase.”

While it’s still not clear whether the PDO is really shifting into a new phase just yet, when it does, it won’t be good. Scientists from the UK Met Office’s Hadley Center led by Dr. Chris Roberts of the Oceans and Cryosphere Group estimate in a new paper in Nature that there is an 85 percent chance the faux ‘pause’ will end in the next five years, followed by a burst of warming likely to consist of a decade or so of warm ocean oscillations.

So what does all this mean? According to this report, “What this means, if the UK Met Office is right, is that we probably have five years (likely less) before we witness a supercharged surge of rapid global warming that could last a decade, further destabilizing the climate system in deeply unpredictable ways.”

Our representatives in congress are having snow ball fights, perhaps in a few years the world will demand that all fossil fuels stay in the ground. Hopefully, we will have time to figure out how to survive this looming catastrophe..