Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Up in Smoke: US Sets New Record for Forest Fire Acres Torched

Photo: AP, http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/02/09/evacuations-remain-after-wildfire-chars-california-towns.html

In its December 25, 2015 report, the National Interagency (Fire) Coordination Center released its near year end totals of forest fires and acres burned in the United States. The sobering result is another year above 9 million acres, a total only breached three other years, 2006, 2007 and 2012. It is also just shy of the very troubling 10 million acre mark.

Most acres burned in Alaska, a total of 5,146,541 acres or almost 52% of those reported.

Compared to the 10 year averages to date, 2015's total of 60,984 fires were far less than the 2005-2014 average of 72,080. However, 2015's 9,937,863 acres consumed are 45% higher than the 2005-2014 average of 6,853,450 acres. This is larger than the states of New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. 

If you step back to a decadal scale, the result is even more worrisome. The 2006-2015 YTD total acres burned is 69,729,395 acres, an area larger than Colorado and just shy of Nevada. It is also the most acres burned in any prior decade in the US fire record.

The trend from 1983 to 2015 depicts a troubling rise in acres burned from about 2 million in 1983 to almost 8 million this year.

Source: NIFC

The data supports the modeled conclusion that the US will experience increasingly fierce and longer fire seasons forecast for the future. Recent modeling reveals that the US may experience a sixfold increase in large forest fires by 2050.

If one thinks this is not possible, then it is helpful to recall that the 1983-2015 difference is a 750% increase in fire acreage.

See: Risk of very large fires could increase sixfold by mid-century in the US, https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/risk-very-large-fires-could-increase-sixfold-mid-century-us

Impacts on greenhouse gases and soot are still to be modeled, but when considered in combination with fires and acres burned in Canada, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and Central Africa, this year's global fires have made a major contribution to the massive increase in atmospheric methane. More on that later.

NIFC data for prior chart:

Year Fires Acres
1983 18,229 1,323,666
1984 20,493 1,148,409
1985 82,591 2,896,147
1986 85,907 2,719,162
1987 71,300 2,447,296
1988 72,750 5,009,290
1989 48,949 1,827,310
1990 66,481 4,621,621
1991 75,754 2,953,578
1992 87,394 2,069,929
1993 58,810 1,797,574
1994 79,107 4,073,579
1995 82,234 1,840,546
1996 96,363 6,065,998
1997 66,196 2,856,959
1998 81,043 1,329,704
1999 92,487 5,626,093
2000 92,250 7,393,493
2001 84,079 3,570,911
2002 73,457 7,184,712
2003 63,629 3,960,842
2004 65,461 8,097,880
2005 66,753 8,689,389
2006 96,385 9,873,745
2007 85,705 9,328,045
2008 78,979 5,292,468
2009 78,792 5,921,786
2010 71,971 3,422,724
2011 74,126 8,711,367
2012 67,774 9,326,238
2013 47,579 4,319,546
2014 63,312 3,595,613
2015 YTD 60,984 9,937,863


National Interagency Fire Center, December 25, 2015: http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/sitreprt.pdf

National Interagency Fire Center - Annual Total Fires and Acres Burned: 

Alaska Interagency Coordination Center - Alaska Acres Burned: http://fire.ak.blm.gov/content/aicc/sitreport/current.pdf

US State sizes in acres: http://www.statemaster.com/graph/geo_lan_acr_tot-geography-land-acreage-total

Future Forest Fire Increases: Barbero, R.; Abatzoglou, J.T.; Larkin, N.K.; Kolden, C.A.; Stocks, B. 2015. Climate change presents increased potential for very large fires in the contiguous United States. International Journal of Wildland Fire.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Global Mean Atmospheric Methane Breaks Above Highest 2014 Reading

METOP IASI 2-A: An all time high global mean methane.

During July 8, 2015, 12-24 hrs, global mean atmospheric methane measured 1830 ppb at 469 mb. This is higher than the 1829 ppb reached on September 4-5, 2014 at the same atmospheric level as measured by the METOP 2-A satellite(OSPO has changed the color scheme - the numbers tell the story).

What is very troubling is that the July 8, 2015 reading is 23 ppbv above July 8, 2014  and 30 ppbv above July 8, 2013 

METOP IASI 1-B: Not available for comparison.

Unfortunately, the METOP 1-B IASI instrument has not been available since April, 24, 2015, so we have no comparative readings at this time. 

During 2014, the METOP 1-B satellite measured mean atmospheric methane as high as 1839 ppb on August, 25 and 28 and September 5 and 7 in 2014. (OSPO changed the color scheme in the last year).

Major factors contributing to the accelerating increase in atmospheric methane so early this year seem to be extraordinary burning of tundra, increased heating in the Arctic contributing to methane release, and also ocean heating which may also be contributing to methane production globally.

This latest high is one indicator that methane readings in 2014 and 2015 have begun a major abrupt spike from the trend of the last decade.

More on that in another post.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Global CO2 Punches Through 400 ppm With Record Setting, Accelerating Increases

On May 6, 2015, NOAA ESRL and Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network announced that the March, 2015 monthly global average carbon dioxide level had surpassed 400 ppm at its 40 sampling stations. Source: NOAA Research News, Climate Central

This is the highest CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in the last 800,000 years as documented by CDIAC ice core data. Source: CDIAC

Image: http://climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/monthly-carbon-dioxide-levels-hit-new-milestone

However, more recent "blue ice" sampling in the Allan Hills of Antarctica, reveals that CO2 did not exceed 300 ppm in the last 1 million years. Source: Live Science.

CO2 Rate of Increase Unprecedented in 66 Million Years

Even more troubling, the rate of CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is increasing - propelling us towards even more extreme climate impacts. According to a May 6, 2015 presentation at the Montreal AGU, we are experiencing Anthropogenic carbon release rates of increase unprecedented in the last 66 million years - throughout the Cenozoic era. Source: AGU

CO2 Annual Increase by Month from Prior Year

The NOAA/ESRL monthly global CO2 captures the trend in the variability due to ENSO change and human emissions increases. The following chart depicts the change in CO2 by month compared to prior year from January, 1981 to March, 2015. The increasing CO2 trend from 1981-2015 is apparent. 

March, 2015's increase of 2.73 ppm over March, 2014 is one of the 21 months of readings that are equal to or higher than that rate of change. All of these months are clustered into El Nino related changes, a loose correlation to significant jumps over the prior year's reading. 

The problem is that annual increases by month from prior year only reflect a short term change, with considerable variance.

CO2 Decadal Increase by Month (10 year change rate)

Another measure from the same data, which is a better reflection of the trend, is the 
decadal change between two months 10 years apart. The following charts the change of any month compared to the same month 10 years prior to that date.


The change from January, 1980 to January, 1990,  was only 15.95 ppm. Given the fall of the Soviet Union, and ENSO neutral and La Nina months, by July 1993, the change from the same month ten years before was only 13.56 ppm. 

This decadal rate then began a rapid climb. In July, 2002, it finally increased to 16 ppm for the first time, compared to July, 1992. By January, 2006 compared to 1996, it had increased 19 ppm, and further accelerated in September, 2007 to above a 20 ppm change over September, 1997. This month - March, 2015 - was the first that a global CO2 decadal change by month compared to a decade earlier rose by more than  21 ppm. 

From its low decadal change of 13.56 ppm to the highest of 21.17 ppm, the global CO2 change rate increased by 7.61 ppm or 56%.

CO2 Cumulative Decadal Increase by Month (10 year cumulative change rate)

One problem with the previous chart is that we are only really comparing the change in two data points 10 years apart. While it still reflects the increasing trend, it does not capture that change for each month through any given period. 

To remedy this, I decided to create a cumulative CO2 ppm change table that smooths the data and reduces ENSO variability impacts on the rate of change. The methodology is to calculate the change between any month and that same month in the prior year (as in the first chart above), then total those differences for a ten year period. Thus the 169.17 ppm below is the cumulative decadal change for January, 1981 minus January 1980, through January, 1990 minus January 1989 (120 months).

The following chart depicts the cumulative rate of change of any month compared to prior year in any decadal period from January, 1990 to March, 2015.


While January, 1990's cumulative rate was 169.17 ppm, the cumulative decadal change rate dropped to 142.42 ppm in April, 1998. After this month, the cumulative rate index experienced rapid increase, hitting 180 ppm change in June, 2002, 190 ppm in January, 2003, and above 200 ppm in September, 2003. 

With longer periods of ENSO neutral and La Nina SST's, the index slowed the cumulative change rate, not exceeding 210 ppm until April, 2006. Impacts of another El Nino led to the cumulative change rate exceeding 220 ppm in January, 2011. Since that time, the highest cumulative decadal rate has been 225.31 ppm in May, 2014. If the current El Nino continues to develop into a strong or "super" event, then it is quite possible that the cumulative decadal monthly change will exceed 230 ppm in the next year.

Average Cumulative Decadal Monthly CO2 Change Rate

By taking the global cumulative decadal change and dividing by 120, one is able to determine the average cumulative decadal change rate for any month in the NOAA ESRL data since January, 1990.

In January, 1990 that average cumulative rate was 1.4098 ppm, which slowed to 1.1868 ppm in  April, 1998. After that the rate, began a steady increase, reaching 1.50 ppm for the first time in June, 2002, then accelerating to 1.60 ppm in February, 2003. The cumulative change rate rose above 1.70 ppm in March, 2004 and broke through 1.80 ppm in September, 2006. The highest average cumulative decadal change rate has been 1.8776 ppm, reached during May, 2014. 

The impacts of the intensifying El Nino, ocean warming, global fires and human emissions, will most likely drive this average decadal cumulative rate above 2.00 ppm in the next year. It is an indicator, that despite rhetoric and hard negotiation on climate, much needs to be done. It is not clear if enough will be done soon enough to avoid increasing natural emissions. 

James Butler, director of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division, has stated it will be difficult to reverse increases of greenhouse gases driving increased atmospheric temperatures. 

“Elimination of about 80 percent of fossil fuel emissions would essentially stop the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but concentrations of carbon dioxide would not start decreasing until even further reductions are made and then it would only do so slowly.” Source: NOAA Research News

AGU, Ridgewell, Zachos, Zeebe, "Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented throughout the Cenozoic": https://agu.confex.com/agu/ja2015/meetingapp.cgi#Paper/34485  

CDIAC Ice Core Data: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/co2/ice_core_co2.html

Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/co2-400-ppm-global-record-18965

Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/50795-antartica-old-ice-climate-change.html

NOAA Research News: http://research.noaa.gov/News/NewsArchive/LatestNews/TabId/684/ArtMID/1768/ArticleID/11153/Greenhouse-gas-benchmark-reached-.aspx

Monday, April 13, 2015

California Drought - Over Rides El Nino La Nina

On April 7, and over the weekend, Michael E. Mann and Peter Gleick twittered about 2014 being the driest and hottest year on record for California. They provided a graphic from their recent PNAS article, "Climate change and California Drought in the 21st century."

The twitters included a graphic which depicted the heat and precipitation anomalies from 1895 to 2014, with last year marked as a glaring outlier compared to the entire record. 

Curious, I decided to highlight all years since 1996 by El Nino (red), La Nina (blue), and ENSO neutral (grey) to see if there was any heat/precip pattern that might emerge. The ENSO determination was from the Climate Prediction Center "Cold/Warm Episodes by Season" table. The result is:
The graphic above does not include 1999, which I could not locate. 

What is troubling is that the temperature anomaly for all years is above the 1901-2000 mean. The other observation is that even though the last 18 years are all warmer, only two of the last four (with this baseline) are drought years, and there is an equal balance of drought and excess precipitation in the 18 years since 1996. 

However, since 2000, only 6 years have been wetter than average, and eight have been drier. 

Time will tell on what 2015's final result will be, but the drought does not seem anywhere close to ending.

Climate Prediction Center: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ensoyears.shtml

PNAS: Mann and Gleick, "Climate change and California drought in the 21st century" http://www.pnas.org/content/112/13/3858.extract

Twitter: MichaelEMann

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mauna Loa CO2 spikes to new highs 404.65 ppm

On April 7, 2015, the Scripps Observatory at Mauna Loa, Hawaii recorded a daily average reading of 404.65 ppm, a new all time high in their records for carbon dioxide at the site.

The weekly trend is part of the natural movement for March-April, which saw carbon dioxide move up from the March 7, 2015 average of 401.71 ppm - an increase of 2.94 ppm in the last month.
However, the yearly jump from April 7, 2014 is about 2.45 ppm, well above the expected annual increase of about 2 ppm. Some of this increase can be attributed to extra GHG emissions, however some may be due to increasing ocean temperatures, as depicted later.
The two year trend is intact, with only one week averaging above 400 ppm in May, 2013, we can anticipate 4-5 months of average CO2 above 400 ppm at Mauna Loa this year.

Will the MLO daily averages go higher this year - and by how much? Very likely!

The highest daily average readings for MLO CO2 in 2014 were 403.10 ppm for NOAA on May 1, 2014, and 402.84 ppm for Scripps on May 31, 2014.

If one were to presume a 2-3 ppm increase over last year, the highest daily averages will likely be over 405 or 406 ppm. A weekly average in May or perhaps early June will likely be over 404 ppm.

However, higher anomalies are possible. The CO2 average daily concentrations around Hawaii on April 7, 2015 reveal regional readings above 410 ppm. The deep reds reflect grids above 406 ppb and the purple above 410 ppb.

The detail above is from the METOP IASI 1-B layer below.
As can be seen, the northern hemisphere CO2 is above 400 ppb in many regions.

Ocean temperatures in the Hawaiian waters are well above the long term (1961-1990) climatological mean and may be enhancing the CO2 increase, along with the higher concentrations being transported from the Northern Pacific. Sea surface temp anomalies around Hawaii currently appear to range from .25 to 1.25 C.

This sea surface temperature anomaly is not a regional concern alone, but global. The NOAA EMC sea surface temp anomaly depicts global oceans into very troubled waters, and the impacts on CO2 increase are still to be seen.


Scripps MLO Observatory: https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/

OSPO METOP IASI: http://www.ospo.noaa.gov/Products/atmosphere/soundings/iasi/index.html

NOAA EMC Sea Surface Temperatures: http://polar.ncep.noaa.gov/sst/rtg_high_res/

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Mauna Loa CO2 Spikes to 403.43 ppm - Ocean Heating Driving the Increase?

On March 10, 2015 the Mauna Loa NOAA/ESRL CO2 concentration reading spiked from 401.56 ppm on the 9th to 403.43 ppm on the 10th. This jump is almost a 2 ppm change in one day, an unusual event.

Usually, these readings are considered anomalies that last for one day, and are deemed as local fluxes that do not represent the general readings of the Central Pacific. This is briefly detailed in the NOAA ESRL reported readings below.

This seems supported by the hourly tracking by the Scripps Mauna Loa CO2 readings graph for March 10, 2015, even though Scripps did not report a daily average the readings were too variable. What is interesting is that the Scripps graph below reveals hourly readings over 404 ppm, before tapering off to near 401 ppm at the end of the 10th. It will be interesting to see if the readings stay in the 401 range - and for how long into the near future.

The Scripps month long chart reveals significant variability for February 9 to March 10, with abrupt shifts that made it a challenge for Scripps and NOAA to determine a daily CO2 average on some dates. Perhaps Scripps will issue a reading for March 10th later this week.

However, is the assumed variability really a local source? I suggest it really is a natural event in the Central Pacific region, based upon air mass boundaries.

The METOP IASI 1-B global mean CO2 for March 10 reveals the global and regional variability. The image below depicts a global mean of 404 ppm at 972 mb. However,  of the Northern Hemisphere has concentrations above 410 ppm.

The detail around Hawaii shows concentrations in some grid cells above 410 ppm. As noted in a post on behalf of Ralph Keeting on the Scripps blog, the frontal boundary, represented here in the grey (cloudiness blocks METOP IASI CO2 readings) can separate cooler northern hemisphere air with higher CO2 concentrations from warmer tropical air with lower concentrations. That may be the case illustrated below. This is the detail of the 972 mb image for the Hawaiian area.

Time will tell how long this spike lasts, but it is very likely, given the impact of El Nino, and general ocean warming of the Pacific, that we perhaps will see concentrations above 405 ppm and some daily readings above 406 in May or June.