As the Trump administration proposes to gut climate change funding, the climate continues to change

By Tom Yulsman | March 21, 2017 1:46 pm

Last month brought scant relief from global warming, and there’s a chance that 2017 could turn out to be the warmest year on record

Global climate map February 2017

Global map of temperature anomalies for February 2017. (Source: NASA GISS)

Even though the warming influence of El Niño is long gone, and 2017 was expected to offer some relief from record temperatures set last year, February saw very little letup in global warming.

And now there’s at least a chance that 2017 as a whole could be headed for the record books.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is moving aggressively to halt U.S. efforts at combatting climate change, and to blind us to continuing change through cuts to monitoring programs.

This past month was second only to February 2016 as the warmest in records dating back to 1880, and it wasn’t really all that much cooler. That’s according to the latest analyses by both NASA and NOAA.

By NASA’s reckoning, last month was 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean February temperature for the 1951-1980 period. That was just 15 percent lower than February of 2016, the record holder for warmest February.

As NASA’s graphic above shows, conditions in February were particularly warm in North America and Eurasia.

And let us not forget the Arctic, which has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe:

To be clear, “warmest” in the Tweet above from Robert Rohde, lead scientist for Berkeley Earth, does not mean warm. Even though a weather buoy near the North Pole briefly registered temperatures at the melting point this past winter, overall the Arctic was plenty cold during December through February. But temperatures in the region did run higher than average for that time of year — so much so that they represented the highest departure from normal on record, according to Rohde.

For awhile, it seemed that maybe 2017 would pan out with a different narrative, and offer us at least a modest respite from the record-setting level of global warming seen in 2016. But now, those hopes could be evaporating, thanks to a very warm start to the year.

February 2017 brought the highest monthly departure from average temperature since April 2016, and the seventh highest monthly temperature departure among all 1,646 months on record, according to NOAA.

What are the odds that 2017 is headed for the record books?

“Our simple statistical model is suggesting a roughly 65 percent chance of 2017 being warmer than 2016 based on the very warm start to 2017,” Tweeted Robert Rohde.

Not everyone agrees. Gavin Schmidt, head of the NASA unit that tracks global climate, responded that based on their analysis, 2017 currently stands only a 12 percent chance of beating out 2016 for title of record-warmest year.

Of course, only time will tell. But the cooling La Niña episode that last fall replaced 2016’s blistering El Niño was very weak — and as of February, it was officially gone. Now, there is some evidence that El Niño could return, which would give yet another boost to global temperatures, atop the long-term warming caused by human activities. But a rather large caveat is in order here: El Niño forecasts made in spring are not very reliable.

Whether 2017 eventually nudges 2016 out of the record books or not, the long-term trend could not be clearer, as this graphic illustrates in a rather interesting way (make sure to click on it to see it full size):

Monthly temperature anomalies show pattern of climate change between 1880 and 2017

Monthly-mean surface temperature anomalies between 1880 on the extreme left, and 2017 on the extreme right. Cool colors indicate temperatures lower than the long-term average; warm colors the opposite. “V” denotes major volcanic eruptions, which tend to cause cooling. (Source: Makiko Sato, Columbia University Earth Institute)

You can find the original graphic here, created by Makiko Sato, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, using NASA data. That original was broken into three separate sections; I’ve stitched them together in Photoshop to produce one seamless image.

Each square represents a particular month, starting in 1880 at the extreme left and ending in 2017 at the extreme right. The color in each square is indicative of how much the global average temperature departed from the long-term average during that month. White squares are months when the global temperature was about average. Dark blue ones are the coldest months, whereas hot pink are the warmest (with black coming in second).

The row of squares along the top shows all temperature anomalies in January between 1880 and 2017, from left to right. Each row below it represents the next month, down to December at the bottom of the graphic.

The transition from blue to yellow to orange to red and then on to pink is certainly uneven. But once you understand what you’re looking at, I think it is difficult to deny the reality of what’s happening to the global climate.

But as difficult as it may be, the Trump administration seems more than up to the task — as their recent budget proposal shows.

Speaking at a press conference about the administration’s plans for funding of research and other initiatives on climate change, Mick Mulvaney, White House Budget Director, was blunt:

Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward — we’re not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.

The administration’s proposed budget aims at terminating federal programs to lower U.S. emissions of climate-altering carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It would also gut diplomatic efforts to slow climate change. And it would axe entire scientific missions to study the climate. Among them: The Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem mission, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 mission and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder mission.

The administration’s intention of eliminating programs to monitor climate change seems particularly telling. This is worse than ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ This is even worse that creating “alternative facts” to compete with actual, true, verified facts.

This is nothing short of taking a hot poker and plunging it into our eyes to deliberately blind us to reality.

  • cgs

    I’ve written this before at other sites, so I’ll repeat it here. There are two points that underpin AGW:

    1. Physics, well-established physics, describes how CO2 acts in the atmosphere to redirect radiant energy coming from the surface of the Earth.

    2. Multiple lines of investigation confirm that the increase in CO2 that has been measured is almost all due to the burning of fossil fuels.

    If one accepts these two points, there is only one essential question that must be answered: What is the sensitivity of the climate to CO2?

    Wrapped around this question are any number of other questions, which all point back to this central question. Such as what are the feedbacks that incur from increased CO2 – especially the water vapor feedback? How accurately will climate models track future temperatures?

    Answers to these questions centrally depend upon understanding the climate sensitivity.

    Currently Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) has a range from 1.5 to 4.5C, and Transient Climate Response (TCR) has a range from 1 to 2.5C.

    Climate scientists need to reduce the ranges, but the numbers above already tell us that even at the low ends, there will be warming. If ECS and TCR are actually at the low end, it just means that, luckily, we have more time to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    This all serves to underscore just how ignorant our new head EPA is who has stated that he does not believe that CO2 is a primary driver of the climate (emphasis mine).

    “No, I believe that measuring, with precision, human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

    Current science rejects this last sentence – emphatically. In order to make this statement, Pruitt is either incredibly ignorant of current climate science, or he rejects current climate science, without any stated reason.

    There is no comfort in either possibility.

    • Leslie Graham

      The sensitivity of the climate to CO2 is around 3C per doubling.
      The water vapour feedback question was answered years ago.
      Yes – there are some incertainties – that’s what makes it so dangerous. It could just be dire or it could mean extinction.
      Do you feel lucky punks?

      • cgs

        I appreciate the comment! But as we argue against the nonsense that “skeptics” put forth we have to make sure that we represent the science accurately. So when reporting things like ECS and TCR, we have to report the range of values, not the midpoint. The range that the IPCC reports represents the 95% confidence interval. So yes, the midpoint for ECS is 3C, but the 95% confidence interval range is 1.5 to 4.5C. The IPCC make is very clear that they cannot rule out any ECS values in this range. See pages 1110-1112 here:

        Most studies that report low values for climate sensitivity come from analysis of the instrumental record. There is recent research that indicates these studies may be in error, but this is still something climate scientists are investigating:

        As far as water vapor feedback, the latest data shown in the BAMS State of the Climate 2015 indeed is consistent with a positive water vapor feedback in the upper troposphere. What is not clear yet though, is the strength of this feedback – at least I haven’t seen any published research that derives a value. If you have something, please share. Thanks!

  • John C

    Uncertainty about the % of human contribution and the Rube Goldberg complexity of climate physics is one thing.

    But the solution, even if you are an unquestioning Global Warming believer, is apparently just as elusive:

    “In Germany, the world leader in green energy, electricity prices have now reached a level triple those paid in the United States.

    In Britain, to comply with renewable energy requirements, power stations are burning hundreds of millions of pounds of wood pellets (pellets imported from the U.S.). Environmental experts confirm that burning wood is much worse for the environment than burning natural gas or even coal.

    Australia, another green energy leader, saw its electricity prices skyrocket this past winter from $100 per megawatt hour to $10,000 per megawatt hour. This was because of heavy dependence on an unreliable renewable energy program. The government had to reopen one of its shuttered natural-gas plants to keep prices from further exploding.

    Sweden announced a decade ago that it was all-in on green energy, and the government launched a wind-power program. Swedish politicians now have had to acknowledge the program has become so expensive and inefficient that the government will phase out the subsidies for the industry.”


    NatGas and fission as a bridge until we some day figure out fusion. Windmills and solar cells can’t power a modern industrial economy (see above).

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    • Leslie Graham

      What complete and utter garbage from start to finish.
      Now that the effects of man made global warming have become an obvious everyday reality all over the planet the last of the fossil fuel lobbyists and concern trolls just sound unhinged.

      Australia a ‘green energy leader’.
      The highest per capita carbon emitters on the planet and currently investing billions in new coal mines even as the country’s farmers are falling victim to climate change.
      Pathetic nonsense from the last of the deniers.

      • OWilson

        Your “highest “per capita carbon emitters” are airheads like Al Gore, Heinz-Kerry, Lady Ga Ga, assorted Kennedys, with their waterfront compounds, the Hollywood crowd, Internet moguls, the Popes, with their multiple palaces and mansions, fossil fueled jet planes, limousines, motorcades, yachts and their other fossil fueled toys.

        Harrison Ford brags he flies “one of his many planes” up the coast just for a cheeseburger. Leonardo flies has a jet plane fly him back and forth to “global warming” love fests.

        All lecturing the rest of the world on energy use!

        Me?, I like to plant trees, and I take out and sort my own garbage! Lol.

  • OWilson

    Climate science, which is forecasting the future, has always been controversial. And so it should be. “Prediction is hard. Especially about the future”. :)

    The problem is, some outlandish “predictions” were hyped by politicians, the U.N. and the liberal media as an existential threat worse than International Terrorism, and even war!

    The Greatest Threat to Mankind!

    That’s fine for politicians and their friends in the MSM, but not so good for the millions of people who are are affected by wars, terrorism, including beheadings, mass rape, and all kinds of other death and destruction.and major dislocations.

    But even in this short article alone, two of the main “forecasters” are in disagreement about this year’s forecast alone. So much for settled science!

    Bottom line, regardless of hype and honest disagreement about their models, we have an anomaly of 0.35 degrees over the entire NOAA satellite record of 38 years.

    The real debate should be, why is this scientifically statistically insignificant anomaly necessarily bad for a world that is setting wold records in Global Food Production year after year?

    We are talking of setting “records” by hundredths of a degree here and they, alone in science, admit to no margin of error in data collection, analysis, interpretation and reporting.

    Unusual indeed! :)

    • Leslie Graham

      You people are truly disgusting.
      You really think any thinking person can not see straight through your utterly transparent concern trolling for the fossil fuel lobby?
      You really genuinely believe we are all that totally stupid?

      There is absolutely no doubt the the 40% increase in heat trapping gases is trapping more heat and the effects on the climate are now completely obvious everywhere. That you would sacrifice a stable climate for short term personal gain is revolting beyond belief. Hell will reserve a special place for you and your fellow lying shills.

      If you haven’t got the guts to admit that events have long ago proved the last of the deniers wrong then at least have the decency to shut up and get out of the way while the grown-ups try to clean up your mess for you.

      • jmac

        Well stated.

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      • Robert

        Thanks! Honestly and clearly stated!

      • OWilson

        There, there!

        Feel better now?

        “disgusting, trolling, stupid, Hell will reserve a special place for you and your fellow lying shills, and shut up” :)

        A spirited but non scientific response to facts that any 5 year old can look up!

  • Mike Richardson

    We knew it would be bad when Trump appointed climate change denier and former (and perhaps current?) EPA foe Scott Pruitt as head of the agency. This is a guy who doesn’t even think CO2 is a greenhouse gas. And to make up for his failure with the ACA repeal and replace today, the Orange Menace authorized the Keystone XL Pipeline by executive order. Heck, the emissions from his travelling back and forth on weekend golf vacations alone have put previous presidents to shame. Sad!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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