Category: Earth Observation & Climate Data

Ocean warming may be faster than thought

Ocean warming may be faster than thought

By Tim Radford

Science knows that ocean warming is occurring. A big challenge now is to work out how quickly the temperature is rising.

The seas are getting hotter – and researchers have thought again about just how much faster ocean warming is happening. They believe that in the last 25 years the oceans have absorbed at least 60% more heat than previous global estimates by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had considered.

And they calculate this heat as the equivalent to 150 times the annual human electricity generation in any one year.

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet (10m) deep,” said Laure Resplandy, a researcher at the Princeton Environment Institute in the US. “Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5°C every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4°C every decade.”

The oceans cover 70% of the Blue Planet, but take up about 90% of all the excess energy produced as the Earth warms. If scientists can put a precise figure to this energy, then they can make more precise guesses about the surface warming to come, as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and drive up the planetary thermometer.

“There will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy”

At the academic level, this is the search for a factor known to climate researchers as climate sensitivity: the way the world responds to ever-increasing ratios of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

At the human level, this plays out as ever-greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall, with ever-higher risks of catastrophic storm or flood, or harvest failure, and ever-higher tallies of human suffering.

Comprehensive global measurements of ocean temperature date only from 2007 and the network of robot sensors that deliver continuous data about the top half of the ocean basins.

Dr Resplandy and her colleagues report in the journal Nature that they used a sophisticated approach based on very high-precision measurements of levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air.

Gases released

Both gases are soluble, and the oceans are becoming more acidic as the seas absorb ever-greater levels of carbon dioxide. But as seas warm, they also become less able to hold their dissolved gases, and release them into the atmosphere.

This simple consequence of atmospheric physics meant that the researchers could use what they call “atmospheric potential oxygen” to arrive at a new way of measuring the heat the oceans must have absorbed over time.

They used the standard unit of energy: the joule. Their new budget for heat absorbed each year between 1991 and 2016 is 13 zettajoules. That is a digit followed by 21 zeroes, the kind of magnitude astronomers tend to use.

That the oceans are warming is no surprise: this has been obvious from the crudest comparison of old naval data with modern surface checks, and for years some researchers argued that ever-higher ocean temperatures could account for the so-called slowdown in global warming in the first dozen years of this century.

Challenging achievement

The new finding counts first as an academic achievement: there is now a more precise thermometer reading, and new calculations can begin.

One of the researchers, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said: “The result significantly increases the confidence we can place in estimates of ocean warming and therefore help reduce uncertainty in the climate sensitivity, particularly closing off the possibility of very low climate sensitivity.”

But the result also suggests that internationally agreed attempts to hold planetary warming to a maximum of just 2°C – and the world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century – become more challenging.

It means that there will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy such as sun and wind power.


Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Giga Khurtsilava on Unsplash
Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

Open data and information sources to support climate risk assessments and decision making

By Dr Anna Haworth

“Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, couldn’t form any theories or draw any conclusions until he had sufficient data. The same is true for climate risk and adaptation practitioners – data and information are the basic building blocks of everything we do: the analyses we perform, the reports we build, the decisions we encourage, and the improved resilience we hopefully derive.

Against this backdrop of a need for robust, contextual and high-resolution climate data and information, a recently published technical note by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provides a concise, yet detailed summary of open source datasets that can be used to assist experts carrying out climate risk assessments.

Authored by Rob Wilby, a close friend of Acclimatise, and colleagues at the ADB, this technical note provides details of 70 sources of public information, including data on historical and future climate, climate-related disasters, indicators of national vulnerability, and preparedness to adapt.

Data sources are collated in four appendices, which broadly map to successive phases of the ADB Climate Risk Management Framework, covering:

  1. National emissions, climate vulnerability, risks, and impacts;
  2. Historic weather, climate, and environmental change;
  3. Multidecadal, regional climate change projections; and
  4. Climate change impacts and adaptation.

Although the report focuses on the Asia and Pacific region, it does have wider applicability as most of the datasets are global in coverage.

As the authors acknowledge, there is a limit to which globally accessible, open source data can meet the detailed information needs of local adaptation projects. This note is intended to supplement rather than replace efforts to gather relevant climate information from government agencies and counterparts.

The technical note concludes by encouraging ADB, other multilateral development banks, and partner agencies to continue to invest in programs that strengthen national monitoring systems for climate and environmental change. Unfortunately, large parts of the developing world still lack both the climate and socioeconomic information required for robust climate risk assessments – in particular, for high-elevation and physically remote locations.

Remotely-sensed and reanalysis products certainly improve coverage, but the accuracy of these assets ultimately depends on high-quality observing networks. As the note highlights, open access to long-term records is invaluable for detecting emergent risks and devising, then implementing, effective adaptation measures.

Download the report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Thomas Beckett on Unsplash
Help shape Copernicus Climate Change user learning services

Help shape Copernicus Climate Change user learning services

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) now also offers learning services on how to correctly use its Climate Data Store. The courses combine classroom and online training covering:

  • Climate Data Store
  • Data discovery
  • Data sources (Essential Climate Variables, Earth Observations, reanalysis, climate predictions, seasonal forecasts)
  • Sectoral Information System (including case studies e.g. from the water, energy, food and insurance sectors)
  • Uncertainty

In order to shape the learning service to its users’ needs, C3S are currently undertaking a short survey to find out what people really want out of the platform. Click here to access the survey and provide your feedback: Access C3S learning services survey.

Free training events are held all across Europe. Click here to find out when and where the next ones are taking place: Access the event calendar.

There is also a Learning Experience Platform people can use for free, click here to register.

Read the brochure by clicking on the image:


Cover photo by rawpixel on Unsplash, edited.
‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

By Paul Brown

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani.


Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Steve Evans/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Radiant Earth releases its open Earth imagery platform

Radiant Earth releases its open Earth imagery platform

Radiant Earth Foundation announced last week the release of its new open Earth imagery platform aimed to help policymakers, researchers, journalists, and others use satellite images to understand and serve their communities.

The platform offers instant and secure, free access to Earth observation data to help the global development community apply the data to real-world problems.

Currently, there are more than 600 Earth observation satellites orbiting the planet measuring global changes in real time which, in turn, lead to better informed interventions and investments from the public and private sectors.

While the current growing market for Earth observation data is often highly fragmented and cost-prohibitive, Radiant Earth Foundation’s platform brings together billions of dollars’ worth of satellite imagery and makes it available to the global development community. Additionally, the provision of user-friendly analytical tools and support allows for a range of users to consume and analyse the data in their everyday work. This includes non-imagery data, including air quality, population, and weather statistics.

Radiant Earth Foundation’s platform is now available to the public at app.radiant.earth through secure self-sign-up or integrated social sign-on via Twitter, Facebook, GitHub, or Google accounts.

Radiant Earth Foundation will host a webinar on September 26, 2018, at 11 a.m. EDT to demonstrate the platform’s unique features to users. To attend the webinar please register here: http://bit.ly/REFPlatfromWebinar.


Cover photo by NASA.
Hurricane Lane Approaches Hawaii

Hurricane Lane Approaches Hawaii

By Kathryn Hansen, NASA Earth Observatory

Multiple threatening tropical cyclones spun over the Pacific Ocean in August 2018. In the northwest Pacific basin, typhoons Soulik and Cimaron took aim at Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Then Hurricane Lane lined up in the tropical Pacific for an encounter with the Hawaiian Islands.

At 10:45 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (20:45 Universal Time) on August 21, 2018, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this natural-color image of Hurricane Lane. Around that time, Lane was a powerful category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 250 kilometers (155 miles) per hour. The storm’s center was 925 kilometers (575 miles) south-southeast of Honolulu. By that evening, Lane intensified to a category 5 storm.

Direct hits on the Hawaiian Islands are rare, but plenty of storms get close. Hurricanes Madeline and Lester threatened the islands in August 2016, but both storms weakened and passed without a direct hit.

The evolution and track of Hurricane Lane until 22 August. Credit: NASA (see high resolution image by clicking here)

The exact track that Hurricane Lane will take remains to be seen. Forecasts from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center called for the storm’s center to curve northwest then north-northwest, bringing it “very close to or over the main Hawaiian Islands” from August 23 through 25. According to the National Weather Service in Honolulu, only one other category 5 hurricane in database records passed within 560 kilometers (350 miles) of Hawaii.

The westward path of Lane’s track from August 17 to August 22 is shown above. (View the large image to see the storm track from August 15 onward.) The track is overlaid on a map of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean on August 21, 2018. Temperature data were compiled by Coral Reef Watch, which blends observations from the Suomi NPP, MTSAT, Meteosat, and GOES satellites, and computer models.

The map highlights sea surface temperatures of 27.8°C (82°F), a threshold that scientists generally believe to be warm enough to fuel a hurricane. According to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center, water temperatures along the forecasted track (not shown) were expected to stay between 27°C and 28°C, which is “warm enough to support a major hurricane.”


NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin and Joshua Stevens, using MODIS data from LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response, sea surface temperature data from Coral Reef Watch, cloud data from the NASA-NOAA GOES project, and storm track information from Unisys. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

This article originally appeared on NASA Earth Observatory and can be accessed by clicking here.

New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

A new paper released by the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, shows how climate information can be used effectively to inform decisions related to climate resilient water management (CRWM). The paper provides practical recommendations on how best to use and integrate climate information into decision-making processes, coupled with case studies showing what this looks like in a variety of different contexts. The paper argues that while using the best available climate information can help decision-makers to go beyond business-as-usual practices in water management, good decisions can be made even in the absence of good climate information and data.

Since 2014 the ACT programme has been actively working in five South Asian countries to help national and sub-national governments mainstream adaptation to climate change into development planning and delivery systems. As part of that work, the programme is introducing CRWM into the water resources management and agriculture sectors. As presented in an earlier learning paper “Climate-Resilient Water Management: An operational framework from South Asia”, one major factor to take CRWM beyond business-as-usual approaches is using the best available climate information and data.

CRWM needs to be informed by reliable information about physical exposure and social vulnerability to climate shocks and stresses in order to create a comprehensive narrative of the impact that climate extremes, uncertainty, and variability can have on water resources management. This requires combining different types of climate information. ACT’s new paper seeks to inform government agencies and individual officials, practitioners and donors, researchers and wider civil society on:

  • How to understand the role of climate information in producing analysis including a typology of different types of climate information; and
  • How to best use climate information to inform and guide the policy-making processes.

Based on experience and learning from ACT projects, the paper presents 10 key recommendations for integrating climate information into water resources management. This is targeted at those seeking to design and implement CRWM programmes and initiatives, to help overcome some of the critical challenges to accessing and using climate information.

Climate change is already impacting the water cycle. In particular, climate change is thought to be making the monsoon more erratic and unpredictable, and decreasing the number of rainfall days while, at the same time, increasing their intensity.[1] Additionally, climate change is projected to increase the frequency and severity of both floods and droughts.[2] At same time, in South Asia, as in much of the world, water demand is increasing and accelerating in response to population growth, urbanisation, increased industrial demand, and the relatively high dependence on agriculture for livelihoods. The latter is especially problematic as rising temperatures and less rainfall decrease soil moisture, forcing farmers to water their crops more. Changes in the hydrologic cycle coupled with increased water demand will have manifold impacts on food and livelihood security, agriculture and urbanisation, industrialisation and, hence, the economy at large. As a result, there is a need for the South Asian water resources sector to plan for climate change.

Click here to access the full ACT learning paper “Using climate information for Climate-Resilient Water Management: Moving from science to action” and a learning brief.


[1] Loo, Y., Billa, L., and Singh, A. (2015). Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geoscience Frontiers, Volume 6, Issue 6, 817-823.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S167498711400036X

[2] Kundzewicz, Z.W., L.J. Mata, N.W. Arnell, P. Döll, P. Kabat, B. Jiménez, K.A. Miller, T. Oki, Z. Sen and I.A. Shiklomanov, 2007: Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173-210. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter3.pdf

Cover photo my Dr Michel Royon/Wikimedia (public domain).
Met Office finds climate concerns for the UK

Met Office finds climate concerns for the UK

The Met Office published its 4th annual State of the UK Climate report this week that gives a summary of the UK weather and climate through the calendar year 2017, alongside the historical context for a number of essential climate variables. It provides an accessible, authoritative and up-to-date assessment of UK climate trends, variations and extremes based on the previous year’s observational datasets. For the first time this report is being published as a special issue of the International Journal of Climatology, which is the Royal Meteorological Society journal of climate science.

Here are some key facts from the report:

  • 2017 was the 5th warmest year over land in a record dating back to 1910.
  • In contrast to summer 2018, UK summers have been notably wetter over the most recent decade, with a 20% increase in rainfall compared to 1961-1990.
  • Above average temperatures from February to June, and also in October, helped position 2017’s high temperature ranking, whilst the second half of the year saw temperatures nearer to average.
  • Nine of the ten warmest years for the UK have occurred since 2002, and the top ten have all occurred since 1990. The Central England Temperature series, which extends back to 1659, shows that the 21st century (since 2001) has so far been warmer than the previous three centuries.
  • For the UK as a whole, rainfall in 2017 was close to average, but with large regional differences. Much of Highland Scotland and lowland England were considerably dry, whilst west Wales, north-west England, and parts of south-west and north-east Scotland saw wetter condition.

Additional facts are available in the infographic published alongside the report:

Photo by Met Office, 2018

Download the full report here: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/joc.5798


Cover photo by giografiche/Pixabay.
NOAA Hurricane Season Forecast 2018: 75% chance of near or above normal season

NOAA Hurricane Season Forecast 2018: 75% chance of near or above normal season

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Forecasters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre (CPC) predict a 35 per cent chance of an above-normal season, a 40 per cent chance of a near-normal season, and a 25 per cent chance of a below-normal season for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which extends from June 1 to November 30. Prior to the peak of the season, in early August, NOAA will provide an update to this outlook.

In terms of storms, this means that there is a 70 per cent chance of 10 to 16 named storms (winds of 63 km/h or higher) forming, of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 120 km/h or higher), including 1 to 4 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 179 km/h or higher). For context, average hurricane seasons tend to produce 12 named storms, of which 6 become hurricanes, which includes 3 major hurricanes.

Two of the main factors driving this outlook are the possibility of a weak El Niño developing and near-average seas surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. However, both of these factors are also influenced by atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are conducive to hurricane development and have been producing stronger hurricane seasons since 1995.

Hurricane track and intensity forecasts are incredibly important for risk management and preparedness. After 2017’s devastating Atlantic hurricane season, many communities, especially in the Caribbean, still find themselves in very vulnerable situations.


Listen to our latest podcast with Angela Burnett, author of the Irma Diaries, who witnessed Hurricane Irma first hand and collected survivor stories from the British Virgin Islands to shed light on the urgency of building back better and building resilience:

Cover photo by NOAA: NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite (now GOES-East) captured this infrared/visible image of Hurricane Harvey on August 25, 2017.
Low awareness of climate risks hampering resilience of critical infrastructure sectors claims new study

Low awareness of climate risks hampering resilience of critical infrastructure sectors claims new study

Low levels of awareness of climate risks and the availability of climate services are significant barriers to climate adaptation in the electricity sector, according to new research from Germany. However, the research also finds that the underlying market opportunity for climate services remains strong.

Damage to a critical infrastructure, its destruction or disruption by for example natural disasters, will have a significant negative impact on the security of the EU and the well-being of its citizens. Focussing on the German electricity sector, the report found that stakeholders in the sector claimed to need seasonal forecasts and decadal predictions, the latter aligning closely with energy companies’ time frames for strategic planning. However, despite this, there is currently a low level of demand for climate services from the sector.

The report found that four major barriers prevented the uptake of climate services:

  1. low awareness of the climate-related risks,
  2. low awareness of the benefits climate services can provide,
  3. mismatches between the required and the available timescales and spatial resolution of data and
  4. a lack of trust in the reliability of data.

In order to overcome these hurdles, the report recommends that considerable work needs to be done in the first instance to increase the visibility of the climate services industry and how it can contribute to the climate resilience of key sectors. It proposes that a ‘Climate Service Provider Store’ is created to provide information about where appropriate climate service providers are available.

Additionally, the case study recommends that work continues to ensure that seasonal and decadal forecast become ever-more accurate and that regional cooperation between industry networks and climate services providers are strengthened.

The case study was led by the non-profit research organization HZG under the MArket Research for a Climate Services Observatory (MARCO) programme of which Acclimatise is a proud partner. MARCO, a 2-year project coordinated by European Climate-KIC, hopes that research such as this will help to remove the barriers to the growth of the climate services industry across Europe.


Download the full case study “Critical Energy Infrastructureshere.

Download an infographic highlighting the key findings of the case study here.

Cover photo from pxhere (public domain).