The temperature spiral chart that scares scientists just got even scarier | RenewEconomy

The temperature spiral chart that scares scientists just got even scarier

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The temperature spiral that took the world by storm has an update. If you think the heat is on in our current climate, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

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Climate Central


The temperature spiral that took the world by storm has an update. If you think the heat is on in our current climate, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

To recap, University of Reading climate scientist Ed Hawkins wrecked the internet a few weeks ago with a revolutionary new way to look at global temperatures. Using a circular graph of every year’s monthly temperatures and animating it, Hawkins’ image showed planetary heat spiraling closer to the 2°C threshold in a way no bar or line graph could do.


His tweet with the original graphic has been shared 15,000 times and it’s been dubbed the most compelling climate visualization ever made (sorry, landmarked Keeling Curve). The spiral’s popularity can be attributed in part to its hypnotic nature and the visceral way it shows the present predicament of climate change.

Hawkins’ graphic hints at the temperature spiral to come, but now a new addition brings what the future holds into stark relief.

“Like a lot of people, I found Ed Hawkins’ temperature animation very compelling because it details observed warming from 1850 to present in a novel way,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist Jay Alder said. “His graphic sets the context for looking at projections from climate models.”

So Alder used climate projections and stretched the spiral to its logical conclusion in 2100 when most climate model projections end. Using our current carbon emissions trends, it shows that things could get out of hand pretty quickly.

The world has been on the edge of the 1.5°C threshold — the amount of warming above pre-industrial levels that could sink many small island states permanently — this winter and early spring thanks to climate change and a strong El Niño. If the world continues on its current carbon emissions trend, it could essentially pass that threshold permanently in about a decade.

The 2°C threshold — a planetary “safe” threshold enshrined in the Paris Agreement — will likely be in the rearview mirror by the early 2040s as temperatures spiral ever higher. By 2100, every month is projected to be 5°C (9°F) warmer than it was compared to pre-industrial levels.

It’d be a world vastly different than today with sea levels up to 3 feet higher (and possibly more if Antarctica’s ice goes into meltdown), rapidly shrinking glaciers and highly acidic oceans. Those changes would have very real consequences for coastal cities, water resources and ecosystems across the planet.

Of course, Alder’s super spiral is only one possible future for the planet. Last year’s Paris Agreement could be a turning point where nations start to rein in their carbon pollution. While temperatures would likely still spiral higher because of warming that’s already locked in, cutting carbon emissions now will at least make the spiral more manageable.

Source: Climate Central. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. john 4 years ago

    The latest spin on the situation is this.
    It is all good a few degrees warmer has to be good and besides CO2 is a plant food so rest easy do not worry god is looking after you.

  2. Farmer Dave 4 years ago

    So John, if your doctor tells you that you need heart surgery, and after getting lots of second opinions, 97% of specialists agree that you need the surgery, would you ignore them? I think we need to listen to the climate scientists on this issue!

    • onesecond 4 years ago

      You forgot to mention that the 3% disagreeing would get millions of dollar from the companies that caused your heart problem in the first place and that want you to keep buying their toxic products.

    • john 4 years ago

      Of course correct no argument.
      My comment was about the obtuse attitude expressed particularly in the political context.

      • Farmer Dave 4 years ago

        Sorry, John – I need to turn my irony detector on.

        • john 4 years ago

          thanks mate all good
          please look at the graph or Mean Sea Level or by the way the particular scientist has been sacked by the new boss of CSIRO
          well he is into making money.
          So from now on the CSIRO will be a money making outfit and will not do any research just how they make money without research is impossible however perhaps just close the whole thing down this will work for a the new economy evidently.

          To put it into context; no need to do research, because we know the problems.
          Question who gave the world WiFi or that is correct the CSIRO.
          Who gave the world the Spectrum Microscope or that is correct the SCIRO.
          lets get rid of these idiots they contribute nothing to society.

          Perhaps underlying there is a perception problem when the value of an organisation is not realized by the clowns in power let alone the dumb down moron media.

  3. des_reputable 4 years ago

    Whatever this means, I still have trouble comprehending how islands in the pacific can start losing landmass, and yet no-one on Australia’s mainland is observing any loss of coastline? Of course we have seawalls (have had for one or two hundred years in places), and we even have sand-cartage programs to take sand back from one end of the bay where it builds up, and back to the other end of the bay where it gets taken from in the first place. Somehow this doesn’t seem to be the same thing. is there any matching loss of land on mainland Aust? If not, why not?

    • nakedChimp 4 years ago

      You need really low lying areas to be able to observe that and then it’s not easy to draw conclusions right away as there could be other factors involved.
      The next thing is time.. ‘climate’ is the observation of measurable values over a period of 30 years. Same thing applies to observing inundations due to CC.
      Take both points together and it get’s really hard for anyone (yes, this means scientists too) to show you anything tangible and believable with some sort of certainty while the process is still in it’s infancy.

      Temperature measurements are a simple thing, everyone got access to a couple of them each day. You know what it means when something changes by 1 degree.. you have experience with that.

      Sea rise.. in the area of 1-2 inch.. you can’t see that. You can’t show that. The only way this is ‘visible’ at the moment is in some time curves buried in noise, so one needs mathematical and statistical methods to show anything at all.. but no layman is going to accept that at this point in time. It needs to get worse before it is visible and believable.

      Remember James Balog who took those timelapse videos of melting glaciers and showed historic photos of them so it becomes real for you?
      That’s tangible, that’s visible, that’s believable.
      Try to do that with a low lying sand island..
      I’ve seen photage of beaches being swept away and houses etc.. but the point of the docu (sand wars – by Denis Delestrac) was about sand being taken for concrete as building material and that this is not sustainable, not about CC.

      • des_reputable 4 years ago

        “Sea rise.. in the area of 1-2 inch.. you can’t see that.” I think locals who use the coast/beach whatever would know.
        Summary – if an island has disappeared, and over the same time span, a local beach has no appreciable change; then why is that?
        I recall a beach and associated cliff near where I grew up, and I have seen photos of same from say 100 years ago. Cliff has been steadily eroding because it is on a point, and the beach has scarcely changed except for rocks added to stop high tide from eroding the 3m drop from land to sand.
        Same amount of ‘average’ beach since I was a kid. Compare this to a ‘disappearing’ island – both (our) beach and island have high and low tides, and the island (in the past) has not disappeared – but now it has – presumably via high tides at first, and now is pretty much covered. Compare to the local beach – high tides still hit the protective rock wall, and the impression of the average amount of beach remains the same. If sea rise was even partly uniform, I would’ve expected to see the local beach severely reduced, if not becoming only visible at low tide.
        But its not! So something is missing somewhere….

        • nakedChimp 4 years ago

          Why do you assume that the amount of sand – that sits right where the land/water interface is located – doesn’t change or adapt to water level changes?
          A low lying sand island maybe can’t adapt like this and will be inundated. A sand beach with more and higher ground behind it maybe doesn’t and ‘just’ changes?
          How do you know the slope of the sand that is underwater all the time didn’t change and just got a bit more steeper to allow the same visible beach that sticks out of the water?
          Stuff like that I mean with “ there could be other factors involved.”

          • des_reputable 4 years ago

            “How do you know…” – You seem to be saying that the beach might be building itself up at the same rate as the sea-rise. I like your creative streak…. if it was, then it would have to be even across all coastlines, and surely by now, someone would have noticed any anomalous spots where that mechanism didn’t work. On my local beach, it would mean the rock wall would get slowly shorter, as the sand built up, and that would be harder to detect compared to average high water marks. Besides, why would the beach decide to do that on all of Australia, New Zealand, etc but not a few islands here and there? So I’ll say highly unlikely on that one.

          • john 4 years ago

            the link to the graph

          • des_reputable 4 years ago

            Ok, I had a look and a search, and found the following which says the IPCC figures are overblown:

            Michael Beenstock – Daniel Felsenstein
            Using individual tide gauges obtained from the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level during 1807–2010, we show that tide gauge locations in 2000 were independent of
            SLR as measured by satellite altimetry.
            Therefore these tide gauges constitute a quasi-random sample, and inferences about global SLR obtained from them are unbiased. Using recently developed methods for nonstationary time series, we find that sea levels rose in 7 % of tide gauge locations and fell in 4 %.
            The global mean increase is 0.39–1.03 mm/year. However, the mean increase for locations where sea levels are rising is 3.55–4.42 mm/year.
            These findings are much lower than estimates of global sea level (2.2 mm/year) reported in the literature and adopted by IPCC (2014), and which make widespread use of imputed data for locations which do not have tide gauges.
            We show that although tide gauge locations in 2000 are uncorrelated with SLR, the global diffusion of tide gauges during the 20th century was negatively correlated with SLR. This phenomenon induces positive imputation bias in estimates of global mean sea levels because tide gauges installed in the 19th century happened to be in locations where sea levels happened to be rising.

          • john 4 years ago

            Mean Sea Level

    • john 4 years ago

      I would visit this site it has the data on Sea Level Rise.
      On the bottom of the home page is the graph here is the quote

      Our most recent estimate of changes in global averaged sea level since 1993 are estimated from satellite altimeter data (red) and since 1880 by combining in situ sea level data from coastal tide gauges and the spatial patterns of variability determined from satellite altimeter data (blue).

      Note that error bars have not been shown for the altimeter data (red curve) for clarity, but are about ±5 mm.

      Note also that the error bars on the tide gauge-based estimate get larger in the last few years. This is because the number of gauges going in to the estimate drops off for the last couple of years because of delays getting the most recent data into the PSMSL archive, which is where we get this data from. This is simply due to the the time it takes the various national archives to compile and submit the data.

    • john 4 years ago

      Here is the graph i mentioned.

      • nakedChimp 4 years ago

        Didn’t know that they got ~25 cm already.. that’s 10 inch. Not bad.

        But I’m still convinced one can’t really ‘see’ that as easily.
        What can be spotted will be more coastal erosion probably and more and longer inundations of low lying areas.
        Though it’s hard to clarify the data on that stuff as well as infrastructure is being placed still too close to the water anyway.

        • MaxG 4 years ago

          The problem with rising sea levels is that these are delay by the soil/earth working like a sponge, masking the real change. Once these areas are ‘soaked’ the level will rise faster.

    • lin 4 years ago

      “no-one on Australia’s mainland is observing any loss of coastline?”
      May I suggest you do a google search on gold coast coastline erosion

      images as a starting point?

  4. JohnRD 4 years ago

    Keep in mind that sea level rise is not uniform. It is higher in the areas where pacific islands are at risk.

  5. Conditioning Cities 4 years ago

    Is it time to stop warming the atmosphere we can now

  6. neroden 4 years ago

    Ocean acidification is the biggest danger: that’s the one which causes global famine and the biggest mass extinction ever.

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