Posted by: ericgrimsrud | December 20, 2012

USA temperatures for 2012

While we wait to learn what the average global temperature will be for the last year, 2012, a hint has been recently provided by the folks at Climate Progress for that of the lower 48 states of the USA  (see graph at  http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/12/13/1333911/mother-nature-is-just-getting-warmed-record-smashing-december-2012-hottest-in-us-history/.)  The 2012 data point shown includes most of that entire year, up to Dec 10 (the average of previous years is used to guess what the last 21 days of 2012 will be).  Note that the last value indicated for 2012 is literary “off the chart”.  It was by far the warmest year on record for the US.

One invariably reads in the deniers’ blogs in recent years the claim that the temperature of the Earth has not increased over the last decade.  We know that statement was not meaningful, however, because global temperature increases are expected to be noticeable only on a decadal basis rather than an annual basis.  Thus, it appears that the upcoming data point for 2012 will reinforce our expectations of a decadal trend of increased temperatures – at least for the lower 48 states – because the 2012 value is expected to set an all-time record which will greatly exceed all previous measurements.  Note in the figure that the new US record for 2012 is expected to be a full one degree Fahrenheit greater than the previous record set in 1998!  That would be a spectacular result that might even affect a few of the hard core deniers of the world.

Furthermore, with a continuation of Business As Usual, we can expect much greater temperature increases in the rest of the 21st Century than we observed in the 20th Century – for several reasons .  The greatest of these is that with BAU, emissions of CO2 will continue to increase exponentially.  That is, an increase in annual emissions on the order of 3 to 6% per year is expected as the financial systems of the world becomes increasingly globalized (note: a fixed percentage on an increasingly large number each subsequent year is exponential not just linear growth).  China is the leader of the newcomers to industrial globalization with others, including India, expected to follow her lead – thus joining the already developed industrial powers in creating an every larger world-wide carbon-intensive industrial market place.  Another reason for expected  increased temperature rises in the 21st Century is that in the 20th Century the cooling effect caused by sulfate particular matter (largely caused by coal fire power plants) provided a significant offset to the warming caused by the then more modest levels of greenhouse gases.  With BAU in the 21st Century, we can expect the atmospheric CO2 levels to continue to rise exponentially to much higher levels while the pollution due the sulfate-based particulates will continue to be brought under control by improved SO2 scrubber systems on power plants.  In addition, the increased CO2 levels we create every day will remain in the atmosphere for several centuries while sulfur-based pollutants will be remove by natural processes in a matter of weeks once their emissions are stopped.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Era about 160 years ago, the global average temperature has increased by about 1.5 degrees F.   With BAU, we can expect an additional increase in global average temperature of about 5 degrees F by the end of the current century, thereby raising average temperatures to about 7 F greater than the preindustrial era.  Since the temperature increases on land masses are,  in general,  expected to be almost twice those over the oceans, increases in land temperatures are expected to be about 14 degree F  higher.  Can you imagine a heat wave in New York City, for example (where the urban heat island effect is also operative0, in which temperatures reached levels 14 degree higher than those of the past?  In such a place, do you think that demands for air conditioning, for example – just to mention one commodity – could be met?  And from what power source would we get that air conditioning – more coal-fired power plant, perhaps – thus generating more CO2?

Yes, we do live in an absolutely crazy world that appears to be headed straight over various types of “cliffs”.  While the environmental cliff being discussed here is clearly the most grave, it also receives the least attention.  It was not even mentioned during our recent Presidential debates.  Most prefer not to think about it and hope against hope that our scientifically illiterate deniers are right and that our leading scientific organizations don’t know what they are talking about in this specific case.

We don’t know yet what the global temperature average for 2012 will be exactely.  That report is due out in about March of 2013.  We do know, however, that the world is steadily getting warmer and we haven’t seen anything yet compared to what’s expected just around the BAU corner.   


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