Category: Research

2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

By Georgina Wade

2017 was the year of individual extreme climate events with its raging wildfires, turbulent hurricane season and widespread monsoon flooding. And the closure of the year has brought yet another unprecedented climate record with 2017 being the second-hottest year on record and the hottest non-El Niño year in history according to NASA data.

In fact, 2017 holds this record by a significant margin by being .17 degrees hotter than the previous record set in 2014. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), one of the services provided through the European Commission’s Earth observation programme Copernicus, reported that global temperatures averaged 14.7 degrees Celsius – 1.2 °C above pre-industrial times. Additionally, C3S found that 2017 was just 0.1 °C cooler than 2016, and 0.5 °C warmers than the 1981-2010 period.

This has climate scientists worried with many citing this phenomenon as anything but normal. Professor of thermal sciences John Abraham believes this outcome is a sign that the underlying global warming trend is stronger than ever.

“The fact is that without global warming, “all the natural influences should have made the year cooler than normal; not hotter than normal,” he said. “The fact we continue to see records break regardless of the natural conditions means that we humans have over-ridden the natural cycle.”

Cover photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash
Climate service innovation market dynamics from a multi-layered perspective

Climate service innovation market dynamics from a multi-layered perspective

By Peter Stegmaier & Klaasjan Visscher, Dept. of Science, Technology and Policy Studies, Institute of Innovation and Governance, University of Twente

Main messages: (1) There are different kinds of services with different underlying configurations of technologies, users, service providers, and business models; and (2) market development is complex and enablers and barriers are related. See EU-MACS Deliverable 1.4 for more detail.

Climate services are still a niche phenomenon. Service innovations tend not to be utterly smooth in the beginning. There is still a lot of experimentation with user practices, business models, products, regulatory structures, infrastructure, and technology, which makes it hard for them to compete on the market against established services or forms of ‘strategic intelligence’ (the latter we call ‘incumbent regime’).

The specific market itself might even be not yet fully developed (see figure below)—or very small and already dominated by the few services that were able to establish themselves in their niches. Newcomers will thus hardly gain a share, but rather have to find their own niches.

Especially when innovations include sustainability promises, market niches and user demands may not be ready yet, since the innovations may differ radically from the prevailing. Moreover, clever niche management will require to link niches at some point.

In order to become aware of climate services-related trends and processes that could have the potential to foster successful niche development, we carried out an explorative study (see EU-MACS Deliverable 1.4) on the EU niche governance of and procurement of innovation for climate services in global context, of emerging (soft) standards, conventions, and ethical frameworks; we looked into neighbouring niche developments (e.g. ecosystem services, climate engineering, platform capitalism with FinTechs and InsurTechs), into relevant technological innovations (e.g. blockchain, online information brokerage, internet of things, citizen sciences).

On incumbent regime level, we looked into innovation policies, consultancy, weather services, law, climate sciences, and economic frameworks; and finally also scanned into broader landscape developments, such as political discontinuation and economic divestment from fossil fuels, exits from climate governance, high-performance computing, social movements, knowledge demands, the blurring of design and use in many areas of governance, technology, science, and consumption, as well as into experiences with non-use and resistance.

For the stakeholder interactions we have developed—together with our project partners—a suite of interactive formats, in which this multi-actor and multi-layer perspective on actually useful climate services can be probed together with stakeholders.

As a red thread that runs through many stakeholder interactions, we have developed a typology of climate services along which we can imagine and discuss the prospective shaping of climate services at an early enough stage of a development (when modifications are still possible) through “constructive dialogues” between all relevant actors in a given field/sector.

Overview of core characteristics for types of climate services

From the analysis we derived suggestions for the workshops, where they could be probed in stakeholder interactions and analyses. They carry key ideas for better enabling climate services by overcoming major barriers:

Climate services as ‘strategic intelligence’: Climate issues address problems that are dealt with in arenas whose complexity and variation is growing. Issues are negotiated in multi-actor settings and on multiple levels of governance and business. Services need to offer insights that can serve explorative and analytic approaches, as well as allow for specialist and integrated use.

Limitations of sectoral focus: On top of sectoral analyses it is relevant to identify cross-sectoral, sub-sectoral, trans-sectoral or even non-sectoral phenomena that might already have or win impact on climate services markets in the future.

Roles of technology for climate services market building: Technology and sciences play a crucial role for climate services in multiple ways: e.g. as instruments of research, as service infrastructure, and as means of communication. Climate services need to observe and probe novel technoscientific trends and possibilities in order not to lose contact with innovation trends and to use amplifying effects.

Role of organisations and institutions: Existing ways in which business or public organisations work, which could be users of climate services, need to be taken into account, such as formal barriers to using climate services and informal ways of collaborating even across departmental boundaries. The same is true for institutional enablers and barriers, like rules, procedures, standing practices, and instruments policy-making and management.

Allowing for a variety of climate services: Specialized, tailored services provided by climate experts receive most attention, but also climate services integrated in management consulting, policy consulting or engineering consulting, climate services shared by knowledgeable users, climate services embedded in technology based consumer services, as well as packaged in insurance products and other risk management service products should be considered in the interaction with stakeholders.

Be careful with labels: Whatever ‘climate services’ could be, may in its the actual context of use not be called ‘climate services’. What at the end of the day counts as ‘climate services’ may in practice figurate in many different terms and practices (e.g. linked to ‘resilience’, ‘climate adaption’, ‘risk assessment’, to name a few), depending on what justifies paying attention to climate issues in a given context. It even may in some way or another be connected to other kinds of services, advice, or intelligence, only making sense in combination with other bodies of knowledge.

Anticipating the end of subsidies: Providers, purveyors, and users of climate services need to develop plans to become independent of subsidised projects (getting out of the protected space), while public procurement might remain an important segment of the market.

Trade-off between ecological and economic targets: Climate intelligence by climate services may lead to more sustainable management and policy, but not necessarily; it could also foster strategies that push the limits of avoiding climate protection until profitability can no longer be claimed.

Non-use and resistance: User-related service innovation will have to analyse carefully what leads actors not to use climate services or to even reject them. Resistance is a common feature of change and innovation processes, which cannot be reduced to deficiency or an involuntary act, but rather could, at closer inspection, turn out to be perfectly rational, voluntary, and capable. In sensitive areas, for instance, every link to “climate” or other environmental issues may be avoided in order not to raise further leading questions.

This article was originally published on EU-MACS is funded by the European Union under Horizon 2020 – Fighting and adapting to climate change. Project ref. 730500.

Cover photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.
Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Yesterday at the 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, researchers presented evidence from two separate studies that human-induced climate change increased the amount and intensity of Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented rainfall.

Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on 25 August and dumped over 1,000mm (40 in) of rain in affected areas, with peak accumulations of 1,539mm (>60 in). It was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States and caused catastrophic flooding that displaced over 30,000 people.

Now, two studies attribute the record-shattering rainfall of the hurricane to climate change. One study, which has been accepted for publication in the a GAU journal, finds Harvey’s rainfall total potentially increased by at least 19% and up to 38% compared to totals in the mid-20th century. Another study, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, finds the record rainfall over Houston was made three times more likely and 15% more intense than similar storms in the early 1900s.

Researcher Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, a co-author of one of the studies, said “It is not news that climate change affects extreme precipitation, but our results indicate that the amount is larger than expected.”

The research confirms that heavy rainfall events across the Gulf of Mexico are increasing due to climate change. As warmer air carries more moisture and warming ocean surface temperatures intensify hurricanes, the region will have to ramp up its adaptation efforts in order to protect itself.

Cover photo by U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez (public domain): Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017.
Resilience building at risk? Five key insights for addressing borderless climate risks

Resilience building at risk? Five key insights for addressing borderless climate risks

By Kevin M. Adams

Borderless climate risks have the potential to severely hamper or completely roll-back progress made on building resilience through climate change adaptation. Can they be addressed in the follow-up of the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation?

This concern was the convening force behind a recent UNFCCC Side Event at COP23, titled A Global Adaptation Goal and borderless climate risks: Strengths and limits of the Paris Agreement. The event was organized co-organized by SEI, Acclimatise, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, and was supported by both Formas and Mistra Geopolitics. Below are five key insights from the conversation, which brought together researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers.

1. Transboundary and teleconnected risks

Traditionally, climate risk is closely linked to the direct impacts of climate change, like increased flooding or drought, heat waves, or other extreme weather events. Yet, according to Magnus Benzie, SEI Research Fellow, this view makes several critical omissions. “By focusing primarily on climate impacts within national borders, both policy-makers and researchers have tended to overlook the ways that climate change in one part of the world can affect people in another,” Benzie said.

Climate impacts can flow across borders via several different ‘pathways.’ These include shared biophysical flows like shared rivers or ecosystems, trade flows, financial flows like investment, and flows of people as patterns of mobility, migration, and tourism change. Importantly, these borderless climate risks do not always occur among neighbours; transboundary risks may inspire regional cooperation when the impacts are localized, but risk can also be teleconnected, linking countries and people relatively far away from one another.

By considering the borderless dimensions of climate impacts, we are presented with a quite different view of vulnerability to climate change, raising important questions for the way we adapt, both nationally and as a global community.

A comparison of traditional climate risks (ND-GaIN Index of the vulnerability of countries to climate change, top) with borderless climate risks (Transnational Climate Impacts Index, bottom, Benzie et al, 2016:

2. Adaptation as a global public good?

Throughout the conversation, a potent and recurring example was rice trade between exporting countries like Thailand, Vietnam and India, and heavily import-dependent countries like Senegal. Extreme weather events that impact rice exporters like Thailand cause price hikes, which makes food security in Senegal vulnerable to climate impacts beyond its own borders. Taking trade relationships like these as a focus, Oliver Schenker, from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, argued that climate adaptation should be considered a global public good with important benefits for both importers and exporters.

Using economic modelling, Schenker’s work suggests that when developing countries receive adaptation finance and are able to optimize their adaptation, the benefits are felt all across the globe. There is a collective interest in financing adaptation, a statement strongly seconded by panellists Mizan Khan, a climate finance negotiator from Bangladesh, and Maria Banda, on the faculty of law at the University of Toronto.

3. Borderless climate risks under the Paris Agreement

Recognizing the potentially significant role of borderless climate risks, as well as the collective interest in addressing them, what provisions or instruments exist under the Paris Agreement to help take these into account? According to Annett Möhner, Team Lead for the Adaptation Committee at the UNFCCC Secretariat, National Adaptation Plans may be one potential avenue for beginning to identify and assess borderless climate risks. Some countries have already begun to do this, though teleconnected risks are rarely considered. Additionally, as methodologies are developed for assessing progress toward the Global Goal on Adaptation and performing the Global Stocktake in 2023, there is an opening to raise awareness about these risks, and think about how they may be meaningfully incorporated into stocktaking efforts.

Borderless Climate Risks side event at COP23. From left: Richard Klein, Dustin Schinn, Mizan Khan, John Firth, Annette Möhner, Rebecca Nadin, Maria Banda.

Likewise, as Åsa Persson, Senior Research Fellow at SEI noted, addressing borderless climate risks necessarily intersects with discussions about climate adaptation finance, and there is a need to think carefully about how to manage these risks while not re-allocating resources away from countries vulnerable to direct climate impacts. Dustin Schinn, Climate Change Specialist at the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), agreed, and suggested that countries needed to be in the “driver’s seat” for addressing borderless climate risks, and should be supported by finance and global coordination.

4. Not the only game in town

Given the country-driven nature of the Paris Agreement, it is also important to consider that the UNFCCC may not be the only venue for capturing and addressing borderless climate risks. Despite Senegal’s interest in bolstering Thai rice production, adaptation must be country-driven and Thailand may rightly choose to focus on other adaptation priorities of national importance.

Rebecca Nadin, head of the Risk and Resilience Programme at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), suggested that there is the potential to learn from other UN conventions like the UN Convention to Combat Desertification or the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or to mainstream climate considerations into the multitude of existing water resources treaties. Similarly, Sara Venturini, Policy Analyst at Acclimatise, argued that trade agencies, financial institutions, and private sector actors may have a substantial role to play in this regard, especially given their high capacities for complex risk assessment.

5. Research for the future of borderless climate adaptation

Moving forward, there is a strong call for more knowledge and research in this area. It is especially necessary to develop methodologies, indicators, and indices to raise awareness about the potentially significant impacts of borderless climate risks, especially those that are teleconnected. Strong calls were made to produce specific case-studies, as well as to develop meta-analyses that locate commonalities, help to identify best-practices, and foster collaboration.

This sentiment is perhaps best captured by John Firth, CEO at Acclimatise, who during the panel discussion remarked: “climate change has caused us to embark on a complex experiment that we do not entirely understand. New teleconnections may arise as we continue to grapple with how we should adapt to our changing world – work in this area will need to be iterative and ongoing.”

This article was originally published on the SEI International website and is shared with kind permission. Read the original article by clicking here.

Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

The first policy brief of the EU funded SIM4NEXUS project on ‘Coherence in EU policy on water, land, energy, food and climate’ is now launched to shed light on synergies and trade-offs between policy objectives in the water-land-energy-food-climate (WLEFC) nexus. It also discusses the implications for the EU strategy on climate change adaptation as well as national adaption efforts.

Being comprised of water, land, energy, food and climate, the ‘WLEFC nexus’ constitutes a complex system influenced by numerous policies, including those that address sectors outside the nexus. The good news, though, is that European policy objectives along the WLEFC nexus are largely coherent.

The policy brief indicates that adaptation to climate change is indivisible from the achievement of numerous EU policy objectives in the nexus. For example, adaptation is inextricably linked to energy security, by ensuring sufficient water for cooling and hydropower generation, and protection of infrastructure against flooding. Similarly, indivisible mutual interrelations exist between adaptation and water policy aims on flood risk and water scarcity management. Furthermore, adaptation reinforces the achievement of objectives in the agricultural sector on farms’ competitiveness and income, as well as maintenance of forest cover as part of land-use management, which in turn supports climate adaptation.

However, climate change adaptation measures may also have a rebound effect. For instance, when implementing measures against droughts, more water becomes available during dry periods which could be used for irrigation or hydropower generation. But increased water availability could also discourage water efficiency improvements and lead to mismanagement of water resources. It may also increase energy use in water exploitation and management. Understanding such consequences is important for the effectiveness of policies and improving the synergies between them.

To read the full policy brief, please click here.

To learn more about SIM4NEXUS project, please visit its website.

Shifting storms under climate change could bring wilder winters to the UK

Shifting storms under climate change could bring wilder winters to the UK

By Daisy Dunne

The UK could face harsher and more frequent winter storms if global greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed, a new study says.

The research uses modelling to investigate how rising global temperatures could change the movements of mid-latitude storms by the end of the century. These storms form outside of the tropics and are ferried across the Atlantic towards the UK along pathways known as “storm tracks”.

In a warmer world, these storm tracks are expected to shift to be closer towards the poles, the author tells Carbon Brief.

This means that mid-latitude storms could travel further before reaching their maximum intensity and, as a result, countries further from the equator, including the UK and the US, could face more frequent and more intense storms during winter months.

Shifting storms

Much of the UK’s more tempestuous winter weather is caused by storms blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. The storms form in the mid-latitudes where warm air moving up from the tropics meets cold air coming down from the Arctic.

These storms are called “extratropical” because they form outside of the tropics, and they’re often referred to as “cyclones” because the storm weather system rotates anticlockwise. (However, they shouldn’t be confused with tropical cyclones that form in the tropics and can spin up to become hurricanes.)

Similar storms affect other mid-latitude countries in both the northern and southern hemisphere.

Previous studies have shown that, as temperatures and sea levels rise, extratropical storms may be able to form further from the equator, which could make it easier for them to spread polewards towards Europe and parts of North America.

However, the new Nature Geoscience study finds that climate change will not only influence the “birthplace” of extratropical storms, but will also provide them with more “fuel”, allowing them to travel further towards the poles, explains lead author Dr Talia Tamarin-Brodsky, a researcher from the University of Reading. She tells Carbon Brief:

“Most previous studies indicated that the regions of maximum storm activity shift poleward under climate change. However, most of these arguments involved changes in the latitude of where these midlatitude storms are ‘born’.

“Our study highlighted another aspect of the shift – we showed that the storms are not only generated more poleward, but they actually also travel larger distances. This means that the storms reach their maximum intensity at higher latitudes in a warmer climate.”

Using a set of 20 global climate models, the researchers simulated future changes in the behaviour of storms under a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curbed (known as “RCP8.5”).

The researchers tracked both the frequency and movements of artificial storms forming above mid-latitude regions between the years 2080 and 2099. Tamarin-Brodsky explains:

“What these models show very robustly, as was shown by others in previous studies, is that the latitudinal position of the storm tracks shifts poleward. The ‘storm tracks’ are those regions in midlatitudes where storm mainly pass and are mainly active.”

The models also reveal that extratropical storms are likely to travel further polewards before reaching their maximum intensity, Tamarin-Brodsky says.

You can see this in the maps below, which show the historical locations (top left map) and starting points (top right) of extratropical storms tracks (for 1980-99). The red and orange shading shows where most storm tracks are found. You can see, for example, the density of storm tracks across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The lower maps show the changes expected under RCP8.5 by 2080-99. Yellow and red indicates where the storm tracks are projected to shift to, and the blue shading indicates the move away from lower latitudes.

A comparison of storm track density (a) and birthplace (b) in the northern hemisphere from 1980 to 1999 to a projected storm track density (c) and birthplace (d) in 2080 to 2099 under RCP8.5. Yellow and red indicates a shift to higher latitudes, whereas light and dark blue shows a shift away from lower latitudes. Source: Tamarin-Brodsky & Kaspi (2017)

Changing winds

Climate change is expected to influence two physical processes that are key to the formation and movement of extratropical storms, Tamarin-Brodsky says.

The first of these processes involves the winds in the upper atmosphere that are necessary for storms to grow and travel. These winds are likely to become stronger as temperatures rise, the models suggest. Tamarin-Brodsky says:

“The second process is related to latent heat release. The hotter air in a warmer climate will contain more water vapour, and thus more heat will be released when the vapour condenses into drops.”

“The hottest, wettest air is circulating up the eastern flank of the storm – to the northern side – and releasing latent heat there. This process pushes the storm northward (or southward in the southern hemisphere), and this effect will also be stronger in a warmer climate.”

These changes are likely to most strongly affect regions that are close to the northeastern ocean boundaries, such as the US west coast and the UK. This is because extratropical storms generally form to the east of land masses and move westwards, gaining intensity as they go, explains Tamarin-Brodsky:

“In the Northern Hemisphere, midlatitude storms are usually generated over the oceans close to the east side of the continents, such as to the east of Japan and off the eastern coast of the United States, and generally travel eastward and somewhat poleward along similar paths.”

In the UK and the US, these physical changes could lead to more frequent and more severe storms, she adds:

“[The models] showed that both the number and the wind speed of cyclones increase in the UK and the British Isles.”

The research also hints at more stormy weather in northeastern parts of the US and Canada, says Prof Dan Chavas, a researcher in atmospheric sciences at Purdue University. He tells Carbon Brief:

“The methodology is nice because they are actually tracking the storms themselves rather than looking at some broader proxy of the storm track. Their results may have implications the frequency of storm events hitting northeastern coastal boundaries, such as those in northeast US and eastern Canada, since storms tend to move poleward more quickly in a warmer climate.”

Tamarin-Brodsky, T. and Kaspi, Y. (2017) Enhanced poleward propagation of storms under climate change, Nature Geosciences, (paywall)

This article was originally posted on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Cover photo by Pete Linforth (public domain).
Scientists improve methods to discern links between extreme weather events to climate change

Scientists improve methods to discern links between extreme weather events to climate change

By Gracie Pearsall

Increased frequency of extreme weather events is often cited as one of the principal effects of climate change. While it is difficult to attribute one specific heatwave, drought, or flood to climate change, scientists are improving old techniques and developing new methodologies to better discern when climate change influences extreme events. The rapidly evolving scientific field of weather attribution science and its growing body of scientific evidence are strengthening the link between climate change and extreme events.

Statistical Approach             

Within the field of weather attribution, several schools of thought exist on how scientists should analyse extreme events. Some scientists, such as Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado Boulder, prefer to rely on statistics that show how the frequency of extreme events has changed as the climate has changed. One example of this type of analysis is the IPPC’s 2012 report on extreme weather events that analyses how the current frequency of extreme events compared to all the extreme events since 1950. This report found that there are far more days with extremely heat or heavy rainfall today, than there have been in the past.

Analysing Thermodynamics

Similarly, other scientists favour analysing the basic thermodynamics behind the link between climate change and extreme weather because thermodynamics is simpler than analysing weather dynamics, such as storm physics. From a thermodynamic angle, the relationship between climate change and extreme weather looks a lot like a chain reaction. First, climate change makes the air warmer and wetter (one degree Celsius of warming can allow for air to hold 7% percent more moisture). This change causes excess water in the clouds, and increases the likelihood of heavy rainfall and flooding. Because of the warmer air’s increased capacity to hold moisture, the air sucks up too much moisture from the ground.  The ground then dries out, increasing risk of wildfires, drought, and heatwaves.

Modelling and Rapid Attribution

One organization pioneering weather attribution science is the World Weather Attribution (WWA). This project, backed by Climate Central, aims to “accelerate the scientific community’s ability to analyse and communicate the possible influence of climate change on extreme-weather events.” The WWA specializes in “rapid attribution” and its’ average turnaround time between an extreme event and a report is five days. The WWA wants to provide scientific evidence for the public debate that occurs immediately after extreme weather events, thus efficiency is of the utmost importance to this project.

The WWA employs an observation and model-based approach to weather attribution. The WWA starts by looking at observation-based data to define what the extreme weather event is, in order to inform how they analyse the event. Then, the researchers must collect more data on the event, often filling in the gaps with weather forecasts and satellite data. Then they use the collected data to model the unusual event and assess whether that event is becoming more common.

Each WWA weather event study uses several models to determine whether climate change played a role. Researches create a model of the real world and a model of a world without climate change, which they compare against each other. Then they run simulations on these models and determine the likelihood that an extreme event will occur, and how climate change influences this probability.

Despite the different approaches among weather attribution scientists, the consensus is that climate change is worsening and increasing the likelihood of certain extreme weather events. Increased confidence in event attribution is crucial for proving climate change does increase extreme whether events that pose immediate and devastating risks, that proof in turn can influence policy making and international climate negotiations.

Cover photo by Lane Pearman (CC BY 2.0): A supercell thunderstorm passes over the Beaumont Windfarm south of Beaumont, KS. This storm went on to produce a short-lived tornado west of Severy.
Past climate lessons prompt present rethink

Past climate lessons prompt present rethink

By Alex Kirby

Climate scientists have been looking again deep into the Earth’s history. Those past climate lessons are not reassuring.

European scientists have just reached two chilling conclusions about today’s Earth by studying past climate lessons. One is that, just as the combustion of fossil fuels is dangerously warming the planet, so too the formation of those fuels turned down the planetary thermostat to deadly levels 300 million years ago.

The second is even more ominous. Swiss scientists say evidence that the world’s oceans were once much warmer may be a misreading. If so, then the current period of climate change has no parallel within the last 100 million years.

The present, said Charles Lyell, the giant of geology, and Charles Darwin’s mentor, is the key to the past. Equally, the past can tell those of us in the present what to expect in the future.

So climate scientists have been probing fossil evidence to read a record of temperature shifts over a 500 million year span – and identify potential explanations of those shifts.

Coal is composed of buried, preserved and altered vegetation from long ago: it is in effect ancient sunshine and carbon from the atmosphere preserved as combustible rock. Georg Feulner of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the formation of fossil fuels during the Permian and the Carboniferous was so energetic that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fell steadily, to the point almost of global glaciation.

Earth narrowly escaped a “snowball state.” And the study illuminates the present cycle of climate change. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere fluctuated over time, falling from 700 parts per million to a low of 100 ppm around 300 million years ago by the end of the Carboniferous.

“It is quite an irony that forming the coal that today is a major factor for dangerous global warming once almost led to global glaciation,” Dr Feulner said.

“However, this illustrates the enormous dimension of the coal issue. The amount of CO2 stored in Earth’s coal reserves was once big enough to push our climate out of balance. When released by burning the coal, the CO2 is again destabilising the Earth system.”

And the Earth’s system might in any case have been a little more stable than researchers thought. Around 100 million years ago, deep in the age of the last dinosaurs, the high latitudes were warm and the polar ocean surfaces would have been 15°C warmer than they are now, according to fossil evidence.

Possible over-estimate

But, Swiss and French researchers warn in the journal Nature Communications, this may not be the case. They report that they looked again at the evidence from tiny marine organisms buried long ago, to find what they think could be flaws in the methodology.

If they are right, ocean temperatures in the Cretaceous may have been over-estimated: if so, then the current levels of climate change are even more alarming.

“If we are right, our study challenges decades of paleoclimate research,” said Anders Meibom, head of the laboratory for biological geochemistry at the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne, and a professor at the University of Lausanne.

“Oceans cover 70% of our planet. They play a key role in the Earth’s climate. Knowing the extent to which their temperatures have varied over geological time is crucial if we are to gain a fuller understanding of how they behave and to predict the consequences of current climate change more accurately.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license (BY-ND 4.0).

Cover photo:
The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change with a sting in the tail

The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change with a sting in the tail

Ben Henley, University of Melbourne and Nerilie Abram, Australian National University

There are those who say the climate has always changed, and that carbon dioxide levels have always fluctuated. That’s true. But it’s also true that since the industrial revolution, CO₂ levels in the atmosphere have climbed to levels that are unprecedented over hundreds of millennia.

So here’s a short video we made, to put recent climate change and carbon dioxide emissions into the context of the past 800,000 years.

The temperature-CO₂ connection

Earth has a natural greenhouse effect, and it is really important. Without it, the average temperature on the surface of the planet would be about -18℃ and human life would not exist. Carbon dioxide (CO₂) is one of the gases in our atmosphere that traps heat and makes the planet habitable.

We have known about the greenhouse effect for well over a century. About 150 years ago, a physicist called John Tyndall used laboratory experiments to demonstrate the greenhouse properties of CO₂ gas. Then, in the late 1800s, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius first calculated the greenhouse effect of CO₂ in our atmosphere and linked it to past ice ages on our planet.

Modern scientists and engineers have explored these links in intricate detail in recent decades, by drilling into the ice sheets that cover Antarctica and Greenland. Thousands of years of snow have compressed into thick slabs of ice. The resulting ice cores can be more than 3km long and extend back a staggering 800,000 years.

Scientists use the chemistry of the water molecules in the ice layers to see how the temperature has varied through the millennia. These ice layers also trap tiny bubbles from the ancient atmosphere, allowing us to measure prehistoric CO₂ levels directly.

Antarctic temperature changes across the ice ages were very similar to globally-averaged temperatures, except that ice age temperature changes over Antarctica were roughly twice that of the global average. Scientists refer to this as polar amplification (data from Parrenin et al. 2013; Snyder et al. 2016; Bereiter et al. 2015). Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

Temperature and CO₂

The ice cores reveal an incredibly tight connection between temperature and greenhouse gas levels through the ice age cycles, thus proving the concepts put forward by Arrhenius more than a century ago.

In previous warm periods, it was not a CO₂ spike that kickstarted the warming, but small and predictable wobbles in Earth’s rotation and orbit around the Sun. CO₂ played a big role as a natural amplifier of the small climate shifts initiated by these wobbles. As the planet began to cool, more CO₂ dissolved into the oceans, reducing the greenhouse effect and causing more cooling. Similarly, CO₂ was released from the oceans to the atmosphere when the planet warmed, driving further warming.

But things are very different this time around. Humans are responsible for adding huge quantities of extra CO₂ to the atmosphere – and fast.

The speed at which CO₂ is rising has no comparison in the recorded past. The fastest natural shifts out of ice ages saw CO₂ levels increase by around 35 parts per million (ppm) in 1,000 years. It might be hard to believe, but humans have emitted the equivalent amount in just the last 17 years.

How fast are CO₂ levels rising? Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

Before the industrial revolution, the natural level of atmospheric CO₂ during warm interglacials was around 280 ppm. The frigid ice ages, which caused kilometre-thick ice sheets to build up over much of North America and Eurasia, had CO₂ levels of around 180 ppm.

Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas, takes ancient carbon that was locked within the Earth and puts it into the atmosphere as CO₂. Since the industrial revolution humans have burned an enormous amount of fossil fuel, causing atmospheric CO₂ and other greenhouse gases to skyrocket.

In mid-2017, atmospheric CO₂ now stands at 409 ppm. This is completely unprecedented in the past 800,000 years.

Global Temperature and CO₂ since 1850. Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

The massive blast of CO₂ is causing the climate to warm rapidly. The last IPCC report concluded that by the end of this century we will get to more than 4℃ above pre-industrial levels (1850-99) if we continue on a high-emissions pathway.

If we work towards the goals of the Paris Agreement, by rapidly curbing our CO₂ emissions and developing new technologies to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, then we stand a chance of limiting warming to around 2℃.

Observed and projected global temperature on high (RCP8.5) and low (RCP2.6) CO₂ emission futures. Ben Henley and Nerilie Abram

The fundamental science is very well understood. The evidence that climate change is happening is abundant and clear. The difficult part is: what do we do next? More than ever, we need strong, cooperative and accountable leadership from politicians of all nations. Only then will we avoid the worst of climate change and adapt to the impacts we can’t halt.

The ConversationThe authors acknowledge the contributions of Wes Mountain (multimedia), Alicia Egan (editing) and Andrew King (model projection data).
Ben Henley, Research Fellow in Climate and Water Resources, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne and Nerilie Abram, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Australian National University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Cover photo by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Ludovic Brucker: An ice core segment extracted from the aquifer by Koenig’s team, with trapped water collecting at the lower left of the core.
Analysing the European climate services market to unveil opportunities for growth

Analysing the European climate services market to unveil opportunities for growth

The new MARCO (Market research for a Climate Services Observatory) Horizon 2020-funded project will address how climate services can better help fight and adapt to climate change.

As climate risks grow, both companies and governments are increasingly facing the consequences. Tools, products, data and services that can help them either mitigate or adapt to climate change have the potential to drastically lower their impact. In this context, climate services have rapidly started to evolve in recent years, with an influx of many new providers and services. However, the market of climate services still remains in its infancy: current strategies face knowledge and visibility gaps, while the associated economic benefits to users are either unknown or uncertain.

With incongruent demand and supply currently plaguing the market, the EU has shown its willingness to invest in climate services in order to improve their match. Not only do service providers have a low degree of awareness and understanding of potential users, but many users say they cannot find data relevant to non-experts that enable them to make sound business decisions and plan for the future. An open, two-way dialogue that provides a clear value proposition for users and allows for the development of appropriate business models for suppliers will be a much-welcomed step in reaching this untapped market potential.

MARCO will run for two years and involves 11 partners from six countries across Europe. Coordinated by the European Climate-KIC, it gathers market research firms, climate scientists, climate services practitioners and innovation actors to provide detailed insight into the climate services market in Europe. In addition to assessing this market, the project will carry out case studies, forecast future user needs, assess market growth until 2030, unveil opportunities, raise awareness and connect service providers and users. Finally, the recommendations made by MARCO to policy-makers may enable the creation of an EU climate services market observatory that will help monitor and evaluate the growth of the market.

The project’s partners met on 22-23 November 2016 in Paris to officially launch the project and review the objectives and work plan. The first day of the kick-off meeting ended with a workshop to brainstorm collectively on the expected benefits and impacts of the project, as well as the key messages aimed at the different target audiences and stakeholders.

The meeting on the second day was held together with MARCO’s sister project EU-MACS, which was also holding its kick-off meeting in Paris. EU-MACS will analyse market barriers and enablers, and look into opportunities and solutions, including the role of innovation and innovation policy in enhancing the use of climate services.

Both projects will collaborate and support each other’s communication and stakeholders’ engagement efforts, and share the knowledge and insight gained during the project.

Acclimatise will be leading one of the work packages of the project.


The MARCO website will be released soon at You can find MARCO on Twitter: @marco_h2020
If you would like to know more about the MARCO project or would like to receive regular updates on its progress, please contact: Rachael Holmes, Climate-KIC: and Chloe Chavardes, LGI: 
MARCO Coordinator: Thanh-Tam Le, Climate-KIC
Partners: Climate-KIC (France), Acclimatise Ltd. (UK), Technical University of DenmarkFinnish Meteorological InstituteHelmholtz-Zentrum Geestacht HZG (Germany), INRA(France), Joanneum Research (Austria), kMatrix (UK), LGI Consulting (France), Smith Innovation (Denmark), UnternehmerTUM GmbH (Germany).
Duration: November 2016-November 2018. EU contribution: EUR 1,520,303.75
Cover photo by MARCO