Note: I’ve written this from Tromsø, Norway, where I’m covering the Arctic Frontiers conference. A version of this commentary is also scheduled to be published in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.
On January 18, U.S. climate-monitoring agencies confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year in records dating back to 1880. And that made it a climatic trifecta:
“Remarkably, this is the third consecutive year a new global annual temperature record has been set,” the analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated.
Just two days later, Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States. As he placed his hand on a bible for the swearing-in ceremony, the temperature in Washington, D.C. hovered at 48 degrees. That made it the 4th warmest January inauguration ever. Read More
The surface waters of the Pacific Ocean have been considerably warmer than average lately — with one exception: a small spear of coolness along the equator that’s characteristic of La Niña.
Apparently, all that warmth has prevented the current La Niña — a cool phase in the Pacific that influences weather worldwide — from gaining much strength. In fact, as La Niña’s go, this one has indeed been wimpy ever since it got going in late summer last year.
And now it is almost certainly on the way out, according to the latest analysis by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The forecast is for La Niña to fully dissipate by February, and for neutral conditions — neither La Niña nor its warm opposite, El Niño — to remain in place through the first half of the year. (There are some hints that after that a new El Niño could blossom, but it is way too soon to say.)
Our current wimpy and fading La Niña has been starkly different from a much stronger one that occurred in 1998 and 1999. You can see just how different they’ve been by watching the animation above. It depicts how sea surface temperatures varied from average in late December and early January during both episodes. Read More
Ok, let’s say it straight away: A “hole” in the Sun’s corona is completely natural. It’s just one of those things that happens from time to time.
Even so, when it occurs, the results can be spectacular — on the Sun itself, as well as here on Earth.
And it just happened. Again.
The video above shows the Sun spinning on its axis and carrying an elongated coronal hole across its surface. It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft between January 2nd and 5th.
Down here on Earth, the consequences truly were stunning, as the following time-lapse video posted to Twitter documents. (Make sure to keep reading below it for even more imagery.) Read More
The extent of sea ice globally took major hits during 2016, according to an analysis released yesterday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
At both poles, “a wave of new record lows were set for both daily and monthly extent,” according to the analysis.
In recent years, Arctic sea ice has been hit particularly hard.
“It has been so crazy up there, not just this autumn and winter, but it’s a repeat of last autumn and winter too,” says Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC.
In years past, abnormal warmth and record low sea ice extent tended to occur most frequently during the warmer months of the year. But for the past two years, things have gotten really weird in the colder months. Read More
Just two days ago, I posted a spectacular picture from the most powerful telescope orbiting Mars showing a fresh blast zone and crater gouged into the surface of Mars by an impacting space rock.
Now, comes this spectacular composite image, acquired around the same time.
You’re looking at Earth and the Moon, as seen on Nov. 20, 2016 by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Mars orbiter was 127 million miles from our home planet when HiRISE captured the images that were composited to produce this view.
The bright blob at the bottom-left of Earth is Antarctica. Other bright white areas are clouds. Meanwhile, the reddish feature toward the middle is Australia. And Southeast Asia is at upper left. The lushly green region appears red because this is a false color image. Read More
On the heels of a study confirming that there had been no slowdown in global warming, there is now this news: 2016 was indeed the warmest year on record. The analysis was announced Thursday by the the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Scientists have been predicting for quite some time that 2016 would achieve this dubious distinction.
The announcement follows preliminary findings in December from the Japan Meteorological Agency also showing that 2016 would be the warmest year.
Two U.S. government agencies, NASA and NOAA, will follow soon with their own analyses. While they may differ somewhat in the details, there is no doubt that they will concur about 2016’s record-setting status.
In its analysis, the Copernicus Climate Change Service found that this past year was warmer than 2015 by close to 0.2°C. “Global temperatures reached a peak in February 2016 around 1.5°C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution,” according to a press release from Copernicus.
As the graphic above shows, the Arctic was especially warm. And no part of the Arctic was warmer in 2016 than the island archipelago of Svalbard, which sits more than 500 miles north of Norway in the high Arctic. Read More
Small asteroids and chunks of cometary debris frequently slam into the surface of Mars, gouging out new craters. Thanks to a high resolution camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists can often spot such impacts relatively soon after they occur.
The image above, acquired by the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is a compelling example. It shows a crater and blast zone from an impact that likely occurred as recently as this past August, and no later than January 2014, according to HiRISE scientists.
Maybe you’ve seen stories about the comet that will supposedly provide some fireworks on New Year’s Eve, as it appears low on the western horizon?
As USA Today put it:
Apart from the traditional fireworks and illuminated ball in Times Square, look for a blazing comet to light the night sky on New Year’s Eve.
“Light the night sky”? Uhm, no. Not even remotely close. But if you’re properly equipped, and in the right place, Comet 45P may well put on a pretty — albeit subtle — show for you. Read More
Speaking of the wild western side of the Bears Ears buttes in Utah, Wallace Stegner wrote in 1969:
To start a trip at Mexican Hat, Utah, is to start off into empty space from the end of the world.
And now, 47 years later, a huge chunk of of this empty space — some 1.35 million acres of it, an area nearly as large as Delaware — has been set aside by President Barack Obama as the new Bears Ears National Monument.
I do have to respectfully disagree with Stegner on one point: This land is not at all empty space. In addition to some of the most spectacular geological features on Earth, it is filled with stunning rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites, caches of untouched cultural remains, and countless other artifacts — much of it at increasing risk from vandals and looters.
As President Obama put it in his proclamation establishing the monument:
Rising from the center of the southeastern Utah landscape and visible from every direction are twin buttes so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or “Bears Ears.” For hundreds of generations, native peoples lived in the surrounding deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and meadow mountaintops, which constitute one of the densest and most significant cultural landscapes in the United States.
“The reason we are where we are now is because of the dignity and integrity of the tribal leaders,” says Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado Law School. Wilkinson consulted with five tribes — the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe — as they produced the proposal for the monument that President Obama has now created, under authority granted by the Antiquities Act. Read More
Just hours after the winter sosltice this month, particles blowing in the solar wind slammed into Earth’s magnetic field and kicked up quite the auroral ruckus.
The Suomi NPP spacecraft, orbiting 512 miles overhead — more than twice as high as the International Space Station — recorded all the action over Canada on December 22. The image above is based on the data that the spacecraft’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRs, gathered that night.
Click on the thumbnail at right for an annotated image that can help you get your geographic bearings.