By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
For those who still deny the tangible impact of climate change, please note that the extended spell of high global temperatures is continuing; the Arctic is witnessing exceptional warmth with record low ice volumes–the lowest on record; global heat is putting Asia on higher risk than ever, and Africa is drying up.
Also please note that almost one half of all forests is now gone’ that groundwater sources are being rapidly depleted, and that biodiversity has been deeply eroded.
In fact, reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that global average surface temperatures for the month of January were the third highest on record, after January 2016 and January 2007, says the UN World Meteorological Organization.
According to NOAA, the average temperature was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12°C. The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest, WMO on February 17 informed.
Natural climate variability – such as El Niño and La Niña – means that the globe will not break new temperature records every month or every year.
“More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).”
Meantime, the largest positive temperature departures from average in January were seen across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.A, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.
“At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air and increasing temperatures to near freezing point.”
This way, the temperature in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, north of Norway, topped 4.1°C on 7 February. The world’s northernmost land station, Kap Jessup on the tip of Greenland, swung from -22°C to +2°C in 12 hours between 9 and 10 February, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.
“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme‘s Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”
As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.
Sea Ice Extent, Lowest in Four Decades
“Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to both the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.”
Arctic sea ice extent averaged 13.38 million square kilometres in January, according to NSIDC. This is 260,000 square kilometres below January 2016, the previous lowest January extent – an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. It was 1.26 million square kilometres (the size of South Africa) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said Carlson.
“This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”
WMO, thus, confirms that the Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. A change in wind patterns, which normally spread out the ice, contracted it instead.
New Climate Change Alarm in Asia
Meanwhile, Asia is set to witness a new, extreme weather alert. On this the UN specialised body also warns that climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanisation are putting pressure on water supplies in many parts of the Asian region, and exposure to extreme weather and other hazards is increasing.
The most populated region on Earth is impacted by a wide range of natural hazards: tropical cyclones and storm surges; heat and cold waves; drought and wildfires; intense precipitation, flooding and landslides, and sand and dust storms. Air pollution is an additional major concern.
“2016 was the hottest year on record, beating even the exceptionally high temperatures of 2015 because of a combination of long-term climate change and the strong El Niño,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“There is increasing evidence that warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are affecting ocean circulation and the jet stream, disrupting weather patterns in lower latitudes in Asia. Glacier melt is linked, in the short term, to hazards like flooding and landslides and, in the long term, to water stress for millions of people.”
According to Taalas, in the last decades, the countries in the Asian region have been exposed to weather and climate events of increased intensity and frequency… The year 2016 was no exception.” India, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait all saw peak temperatures of more than 50°C last summer. Many other parts of Asia also saw heat-waves.
In view of this situation, the WMO’s Regional Association for Asia’s four-yearly conference, held on 12-16 February in Au Dhabi, discussed how best to support implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and associated moves towards a low-carbon economy, including through targeted climate services for the energy, water, transport, industry, agriculture and land use sectors.
Drought Set to Worsen in Greater Horn of Africa
Pararelly, many parts of the Greater Horn of Africa are expected to receive below average rainfall in the important March to May rainy season, worsening food security and water availability in countries already seriously hit by drought, according to a new seasonal outlook issued by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum.
“What makes the current drought alarming in the Equatorial Greater Horn of Africa region is that it follows two consecutive poor rainfall seasons in 2016, and the likelihood of depressed rainfall persisting into the March-May 2017 rainfall season remains high,” said the Intergovernmental Authority onDevelopment’s Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC), which convened the regional forum.
“The situation will be worse in countries already experiencing drought, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, parts of Uganda, South Sudan and parts of Tanzania. Many parts of the region will experience serious water stress.”
With the exception of Sudan and Rwanda, the October – December 2016 rains failed in most countries in region. Contributing factors include the weak La Niña, which has just ended, and reduced moisture influx due to the cooling of the ocean water in the east African coast.
The forum, attended by meteorological and climate experts and users from agriculture and food security, livestock, water resources, disaster risk management, Non-Governmental Organisations and development partner, took place in Addis Ababa from 6 to 7 February 2017.
The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum said there is an increased likelihood of below normal to near normal rainfall over northern and eastern Tanzania; north, eastern and coastal Kenya; southern and north-western Somalia; north and western Djibouti; western and south-eastern Eritrea; north-eastern, eastern and southern Ethiopia; southern parts of South Sudan; north-eastern Uganda and southern parts of Sudan.
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