New research from climatologists – including Planet Expert Michael Mann – indicates a high chance that global warming will accelerate in the next few years.
The Process of Global Warming
Over the past few years, scientists have noticed a general slowdown in global warming. This has led climate change deniers to proclaim that global warming is not real. There are some high-profile figures trying to overturn this impression, such as Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who in July explained to serial science denier Jim Inhofe (he of the infamous “snowball argument”) that, though atmospheric warming has not risen spectacularly in the last 15 years, ocean warming has.
In point of fact, the oceans are warming so quickly that they are, as Dr. John Abraham put it, “breaking scientists’ charts.” Abraham is a professor of thermal sciences at the University of St. Thomas and has declared that about 90 percent of the heat produced by global warming is being absorbed by the ocean. A 2012 study by oceanographer John Church calculated that, on average, 125 trillion Joules of heat energy are being fed into the oceans per second.
To put that into perspective, Church’s research team created this trenchant analogy: That is approximately the same amount of energy load as two of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
Now for the really bad news. In less than two decades, that rate of warming increased to about four atomic bombs per second. By 2013, that figure tripled to the equivalent of 12 atomic bombs per second.
Now for the Really, Really Bad News
In a paper recently published in the journal Science, Mann and his colleagues warn that the ocean’s ability to absorb all of this heat may soon degrade.
The ocean is better at burying planetary heat when a weather pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is in a negative phase. The PDO can last anywhere from 15 to 30 years. Between 1977 and 1998, the PDO was in a positive phase, which resulted in an acceleration of atmospheric temperatures. Since 1998, the PDO has been negative, and atmospheric warming was further dampened by the influence of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).
As Dr. Mann explained in his breakdown of the global warming “faux pause,” the PDO and AMO may have masked the true amount of surface warming in recent decades. These years “likely offset anthropogenic warming over the past decade,” wrote Mann, and could be merely a global warming “speed bump.”
But eventually these weather oscillations will shift phases and the ocean will absorb less global heat. According to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, there is an 85 percent chance that the global warming hiatus will end by 2020. When that happens, atmospheric warming could significantly increase.
As meteorologist Eric Holthaus told Motherboard: “Global warming is about to get a boost.”