In the context of climate science, what significant milestones in our understanding did we see emerge in 2018?
Carbon Brief has a list. They have published the top climate science papers, or to be a tad more precise, the papers that resulted in the most media attention. You can surf on over to their take on it all here.
I do however have my own personal selection of what I personally think was truly significant, and so I’ve compiled it below. My twist on this is to include reports issued by various communities such as the IPCC, NOAA, and others. Individual papers, and I have included some, tend to focus on one specific specialist topic. Reports offer a higher-level broader view that distills rather a lot of published research into an overall summary, hence often grants us a deeper insight.
Top 10 major Climate Science milestones in 2018?
This is my own wholly subjective list, and so if you have a different list and can suggest alternatives, additions, or links to other lists, then feel free to drop a note into the comments section below.
The No.1 item just must be this one. Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared this IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015. This is perhaps as definitive as it gets.
There is a great deal to digest. In essence the report is telling us this …
- Humans are wholly and completely responsible for about 1C of warming (the range is roughly 08. to 1.2), and between 2030 and 2052 that number will reach 1.5C of warming.
- This change will persist for thousands of years. As time progresses, this will profoundly alter the climate system – for example sea level rise will keep rising
- If we can reach and then sustain net zero CO2 emissions we can halt the ongoing rise, but in the longer term, we need negative CO2 emissions to prevent further warming due to feedback systems
This was a shocker. After flattening out for a few years between 2014 and 2016, this revealed that overall rates of Global carbon emissions in 2018 had once again reverted back to their rapid upwards trend.
One line summary: if this trend does not change very soon, then we are well and truly F**ked.
This laid out in great detail (over 12 sections) the impact that Climate Change will have on the US.
The two key messages from it all were these …
- Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.
- Climate-related risks will continue to grow without additional action
The Trump administration still thinks that science and reality is a liberal conspiracy, hence when this was published some talking heads popped up to claim that “A lot of these scientists are driven by the money“. Rather ironically it was then revelled that those promoting this were paid by oil and gas interests to say this.
This is an annual report published by NOAA. It reflected on a range of land, ice, and ocean observations made throughout the Arctic during the 2018 calendar year. A series of 14 essays written by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries are included. As in previous years, this update highlights the changes that continue to occur in, and among, the physical and biological components of the Arctic environmental system.
From this we learned that in 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe, a phenomenon that has been termed “Arctic Amplification.” The year 2018 was the second warmest year on record in the Arctic.
This addressed the question of the moment; Are we taking the necessary and sufficient steps to avert the catastrophic consequences we now face?
The quick short answer it presented is No, we are not, and so this updated 2018 report is a carbon copy of what we learned from the previous 2017 report, and also from the 2016 report of the year before that.
In other words, the clock is ticking, a window of opportunity to take meaningful action still remains open, but it is dwindling.
Key point: The Paris Agreement resulted in various carbon reduction commitments, and if every single nation adhered to those and met them, it is still not enough; we need to sign up to even more.
This comes from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The foundation for this is data that has been sourced from a large and diverse number of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and associated institutions, as well as Regional Climate Centres, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) and Global Cryosphere Watch.
This latest WMO report added to the body of evidence that we must make unprecedented changes in our lifestyle, energy and transport systems if we wish to avoid the consequences. It lays out the precise details of the significant weather events that took place in 2018 and drives home these points …
- The 20 warmest years on record have been in the past 22 years.
- 2018 is on course to be the 4th warmest year on record [That’s now more or less official, at the time of publication it was a trend]
- Sea level is rising, ocean heat and acidification and sea-ice and glacier melt continue
- We will not meet our climate targets; by 2100 we may see temperature increases of 3-5°C
The actual title of the published paper is “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”. It laid out a possibility that we face a runaway climate hothouse.
This is the paper that presented the realistic possibility that we have committed the climate system to conditions beyond the envelope of past interglacial conditions. It is not simply going to get a little bit warmer, we have possibly tipped the entire system into a completely new direction.
This paper titled, “Climate-change–driven accelerated sea-level rise detected in the altimeter era“, and published within the PNAS, presented the following findings …
- Satellite altimetry reveals that global mean sea level has been rising at a rate of ∼3 ± 0.4 mm/y since 1993.
- Using the altimeter record coupled with careful consideration of interannual and decadal variability as well as potential instrument errors, the paper shows that this rate is accelerating at 0.084 ± 0.025 mm/y2
- This agrees well with climate model projections
- If sea level continues to change at this rate and acceleration, sea-level rise by 2100 (∼65 cm) will be more than double the amount if the rate had stayed at a constant 3 mm/y
This is a study published in Nature and titled “Arctic warming hotspot in the northern Barents Sea linked to declining sea-ice import“.
Using hydrographic observations gathered between 1970 to 2016 they revealed that there has been a very sharp increase in ocean temperature and salinity within the Barents sea since about the mid 2000s. What appears to be happening is that the Barents sea is transitioning from being a cold and stratified Arctic ocean into a warm and well-mixed Atlantic-dominated climate regime.
There has previously been a loss of freshwater that poured in via sea ice melt, but that is no longer there hence much warmer salty Atlantic ocean is moving in – this is a consequence of the dramatic loss of sea-ice.
This is huge, the entire ecosystem is dramatically changing, and yet also deeply sad that it is all happening almost unnoticed.
Via a paper titled “Temperature-dependent hypoxia explains biogeography and severity of end-Permian marine mass extinction” we learned that what happened 252 million years ago, the “Great Dying,”, the extinction of 96% of all marine life and 70% of all land based life, has parallels to what we are now currently observing.
Their conclusion is that increased marine temperatures and reduced oxygen availability were responsible for a majority of the recorded extinctions. Because similar environmental alterations are the predicted outcomes of current climate change, we would be wise to take note that we face the same fate if we take no action.
This comes via YaleEnvironment 360. It that lays out the details of how the climate map on our sphere is being redrawn. The full article is titled “Redrawing the Map: How the World’s Climate Zones Are Shifting“. It is quite frankly shocking stuff.
Our planet is currently undergoing many changes – the Tropics are getting bigger, the Sahara in expanding, the 100th Meridian is shifting, Tornado Alley is moving, Plant Hardiness Zones are moving North, The Permafrost line is moving North, The Wheatbelt is moving.
If you are truly not worried about climate change, then clearly you really do not understand what is currently going on.
Doing nothing is really not an option.