March 2017, global temperature update

March 2017, global temperature update

This is a quick update to my temperature graphs based on the latest NASA GISTEMP numbers. First, the monthly anomalies.


The March anomaly was 1.12C, the second-warmest March and the fourth-warmest month ever. In the absence of an El Niño, this is quite exceptional. I’ll leave it to the experts to explain why.

I have updated my prediction chart, based on extrapolating the first three months to the year-end average, based on past statistics.

Caveat! I caution readers to take this prediction with a grain of salt. I don’t understand physically why the first three-months average should overpredict the annual average. Also, in a reaction to last month’s post, Robert Rohde (added, see the update at the end of this post for some bad news about Robert’s health) of the Berkeley Research Group stated that this effect may be a statistical artefact.


The mean prediction is for a year-end average anomaly of 0.92C and a 95% confidence interval of 0.74-1.08C.  The average for the first three months of 2017 is 1.04C, higher than the 2016 record average of 0.98C.

Based on this analysis, the chance of 2017 setting a new annual record is 23%; second place, 51% and third place 23%; fourth or lower, 3%. Professional forecasters, taking account of physical processes like ENSO, will have different and better forecasts.

Here is the forecast in the context of annual mean anomalies since 1950.


And here is a plot showing temperature anomalies re-baselined to an approximate pre-industrial datum, with an added heavily-smoothed Loess line.


Extrapolating the Loess line to 2017 would yield a trend value anomaly of 1.08C. There’s an 87% chance that 2017 will come in above that line and very slightly increase the updated line’s gradient. If the present gradient is maintained, the trend will reach 1.5C before 2040 and 2C before 2090. Temperatures are likely to spike over those thresholds a decade or more before those dates. The future trend line could bend either way, downwards if we are successful with mitigation, or upwards if we are negligent and/or have some bad luck with carbon-cycle feedbacks.

Here is NASA’s global heat map, showing the huge hotspot in northern Eurasia, along with others in the western US and and western Antarctica.

mar17 nasa globe

On Twitter, Zeke Hausfather did some analysis on NOAA data, similar to what I did on the NASA data. He came up with broadly similar results, although he predicts a higher probability of 2017 setting a new annual record (his 48% for NOAA, versus my 23% for GISTEMP).  Note that the 2016 NOAA average anomaly was less of a stand-out record than GISTEMP’s. At the end of 2016, few people would have predicted that that year’s record could be broken in 2017. As Dylan sang “something’s happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?”

2017-04-20_18-08-36 zeke

Finally, here is a monthly anomaly graph of NOAA data posted by Joe Romm. It is colour-coded to show the different ENSO states. March 2017 was the warmest-ever month in an ENSO-neutral period.


Indeed, March 2017 was warmer than any El Niño month prior to the 2015-2016 event. Truly extraordinary.

Sou’s monthly update is always worth a read.

Update. I have just learned today that Robert Rohde has contracted blood cancer and is in need of funds to pay for part of his treatment as well as to help compensate him for loss of income during his months’ long chemotherapy session. I particularly appreciate Robert having taken the time to Tweet helpful criticism of my work here while he must have been undergoing a stressful diagnosis.

His Berkeley Earth colleague, Zeke Hausfather, has set up a fund-raising site for Robert. Please consider lending a helping hand.

The Globe and Mail “clarifies” its misleading oil sands article

A bungled correction to a Globe and Mail article reveals that the intent was to publish a puff piece on the oil sands, not an objective analysis of the future of bitumen production in the face of serious climate change mitigation.

Just over two weeks ago, I wrote a piece critical of an article in the Globe and Mail: Environmentalists should end the charade over the oil sands, written by Martha Hall Findlay and Trevor McLeod. I also contacted the editor at the G&M to alert him/her of the errors in the piece. I revisited the G&M article recently and found the following note at the bottom.

Eds Note: This version clarifies references to the IEA’s outlook for oil to 2040.

I didn’t keep a copy of the entire original article, so I can’t be sure of all the updates they made, but I did cite the problematic first paragraph of the original piece (the words that were later removed are marked with a strikethrough):

The story starts with global energy forecasts. Even if there is very aggressive adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies – which we wholeheartedly support – the world will use more oil each year through at least 2040. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), if the world goes beyond the aggressive commitments made in Paris and achieves the 2C global goal, then oil demand would fall by 2040. Yet, oil demand will remain high for years after that.

The “clarified” version follows, with  text underlined

The story starts with global energy forecasts. Even if there is very aggressive adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy technologies – which we wholeheartedly support – most forecasts, including two of the three International Energy Agency (IEA)’s scenarios, predict that the world will use more oil each year through at least 2040. According to the IEA’s third forecast, even if the world goes beyond the aggressive commitments made in Paris and achieves the 2C global goal, which many analysts doubt, then oil demand would fall before 2040. Yet, even in that most aggressive scenario, oil demand will still remain high for years after 2040.

I suppose it’s fairly standard for newspapers to try to save face by claiming to “clarify” rather than “correct” a piece. However, in this case they also introduced new errors and added confusion.  Continue reading

Global temperature update: February 2017

Global temperature update: February 2017

NASA’s GISTEMP temperature estimates for February 2017 are now out.  February 2017 was the second-warmest February since records began (the first-warmest being in 2016) and was tied for the fourth-warmest monthly anomaly for any month.

Here is a plot of all monthly anomalies since 1998. I have coloured the lines for the three recent record years of 2014, 2015 and 2016.


We are currently not in El Niño conditions, so it is rather extraordinary that the temperatures are running so warm—warmer in fact than during any El Niño before 2016. The average temperature this year so far, 1.01° C, is warmer than the record-breaking annual average for 2017 of 0.98° C. This does not mean that 2017 will set a new record: it’s possible, but not likely, as I will try to show. Continue reading

Keeping oil sands in the ground is not a “charade”

Keeping oil sands in the ground is not a “charade”

If the world is successful in reducing emissions sufficiently to avoid dangerous climate change, there is a limited future for a prospering oil-sands sector in Canada. The conventional wisdom among the Canadian establishment is that growing the oil-sands business is compatible with meeting national and global emissions commitments. This is a myth that obscures government policy contradictions.

In a recent Globe and Mail article Environmentalists should end the charade over the oil sands, Martha Hall Findlay and Trevor McLeod argue that keeping oilsands in the ground and stopping new oil pipelines will actually increase global greenhouse gas emissions.

Their argument rests on two premises:

  • Oil demand won’t start to fall until 2040. After that it will remain high for many years.
  • Oil-sands production is becoming less emissions intensive thanks to improving technology. If oil-sands consumption by US refineries were replaced by, say, more emissions-intensive Venezuelan heavy crude, then global emissions would increase.

I won’t dispute the second point in detail, at least for now. The case I’m making here does not depend on rebutting it. If overall oil-sands upstream emissions intensities really are falling due to improved technology, that’s welcome news. But I haven’t seen the most recent average emissions data that back it up. My understanding is that newer projects are predominantly in-situ facilities that are more emissions intensive than mines, so that the average GHG emissions per barrel is actually rising slowly.

My focus here will be the first point, where Hall Findlay and McLeod made an important error by misrepresenting the scenarios from the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2016. They wrote: Continue reading

In the bleak midwinter

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

John Donne

With Donald Trump about to become the next President of the United States; with the United Kingdom getting ready to indulge in self-harm with a hard exit from the European Union; as European electorates consider voting for racists and authoritarians; and as the dreadful tragedy in Syria unfolds: it does really seem that the world’s whole sap is sunk.

The best hope is that electing a narcissistic and ignorant man-child as president and the coming Brexit debacle will expose the contradictions of these political rebellions and expedite their own undoing. But what a price we will have to pay before this becomes evident to all. As H.L. Mencken said:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part

I don’t think that there has ever been a time in my life in which resistance to a new political movement has become so necessary. Not only must we fight the proto-fascists, at the same time we also have to understand where western liberalism went so wrong. So many people in our societies have decided that they had nothing to lose by giving the finger to the status quo. Globalization and, especially, robotization of manufacturing are hollowing out and leaving behind large swaths of our countries. Inequality is rising and the poorest halves of our societies are not getting ahead. Those of us who live comfortable lives and spend our days inside our bubbles distracting ourselves with intellectual pursuits have received quite the shock.

Blithe assumptions about how incremental progress would improve everyone’s lives are now revealed as complacency. At least the populist revolt has exposed the contradictions and failures we preferred not to notice.

Education is offered as a simplistic answer by some people—especially educators—who have forgotten what the question was: how can everyone lead dignified and meaningful lives? I don’t have the solutions, but we first need to acknowledge that the consensus we had entering the new millennium has failed.

I dislike the commercialized and kitschy festival we have made of Christmas. Due to overexposure, I have an especial loathing for carols. But Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter, set to music, is an exception. The midwinter despair tempered with hope captures the seasonal mood perfectly. At the darkest time of the year we can still look forward to new life.

Susan Boyle sings the best version I could find.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Global temperature anomalies, 2016 and 2017

Global temperature anomalies, 2016 and 2017

I used to do regular monthly global surface temperature updates earlier this year, but I stopped a few months ago. I was getting bored with writing them and I noticed that readers weren’t reading them either. Also, Tamino and Sou do an excellent and timely job on this and I can add little to their commentary or figures.

Nevertheless, I do update my graphs regularly for myself and I thought I would do one last post to wrap up the year, even if all of the data are not yet in.


Continue reading