3 January 2017

2016 Ends With Astonishing Warmth and Gloomy News from Antarctica

Posted by Dan Satterfield

From the UK Met Office Hadley Center.

From the UK Met Office Hadley Center. It’s unlikely that next year will be quite as hot as this year since El Nino has faded into a weak La Nina, but it will still be one of the hottest years ever. measured.

My fellow science geeks have been posting some rather astonishing climate plots on Twitter over the past few days, and it’s reached the point of doing a post about them. So here are some graphs/info about the warmth, along with some frightening news from Antarctica that didn’t get the attention it deserved.

First of all, 2016 will be the new hottest year on record globally, and we’ve also reached 25 consecutive months (in the U.S). with daily record highs outpacing the record lows. You may have thought that December was cold, but that’s because we humans are lousy at recognising slow motion disasters. I always like to quote Richard Feynman’s saying that “Science is what we do to keep from lying to ourselves” and here are some good examples.:

Meteorologist Guy Walton keeps track of the ratio of record highs vs. record lows for me, and he just sent me this in an email:


…and in Alaska, this:

From Alaska Climatologist Rick Thoman..Utqiaġvik (Formerly Barrow AK) blows away previous warmest year by a full 2ºF. Trend since 1970s a stunning º6F

From Alaska Climatologist Rick Thoman. Utqiaġvik (Formerly Barrow AK) blows away previous warmest year by a full 2ºF. Trend since the 1970s a stunning º6F

 A new paper out in Nature Communications seems to have not gotten much attention over the holidays, but it should. The new data shows how the intrusion of warm ocean waters under the glaciers of West Antarctica is causing a very rapid melt/thinning of the ice. A good summary is here, and a hat tip to @stevebloom55 on Twitter for alerting me about this (I’d totally missed it). 

Climatologist Brian Brettschneider has been keeping up with the amazing warmth in Antarctica, and he posted some data as well:


The graph below has to be the best of 2016:

Climate Scientists Ed Hawkins at the Uni. of Reading in the UK gets my award for the best science info graphic of 2016.

Climate Scientists Ed Hawkins at the Uni. of Reading in the UK gets my award for the best science info-graphic of 2016.

h/t to Dr. Peter Gleick. https://twitter.com/PeterGleick

h/t to Dr Peter Gleick-https://twitter.com/PeterGleick.


I also want to share this really well-written blog post by Bart Verheggen. It’s a good guide to evaluating any type of information, and at a time when the enlightenment itself seems to be faltering in a blizzard of disinformation and propaganda, it’s worth saving. This is not an easy time to be in any Earth science field, but working in climate is especially tough. My friend Ben Santer was the subject of a great piece in the LA Times Sunday and it too is well worth a read. Ben gets dead rats on his doorstep and Dr Michael Mann gets this in his inbox (warning-VERY graphic language).

After that, I think the only thing to do is to post some words of Carl Sagan from Demon Haunted World. Yes, most of you have read them many times, but for those that have not, this is for you. 

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…
The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark


I think there are some scary times coming for those who dwell in a world based on fact and reason. Galileo, Copernicus, and Charles Darwin as well would be very familiar with the times we find ourselves in. Fact and reason will eventually triumph over what some fervently wish were true, but is not. Still, I think the words of the Duke of Wellington after the battle of Waterloo are appropriate- “It has been a damned {uncertain} thing — the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”.