You’ve probably heard that weather is getting more extreme and that this is in part because accumulating greenhouse gases have caused the air at earth’s surface to warm by an average of 0.8 degrees celsius over the last century. But how could a barely perceptible rise in air temperature lead to such crazy changes in weather?
Well, that air temperature rise actually only amounts to 1% of the extra energy absorbed by earth’s atmosphere over the last century – a few percent has been absorbed by land and almost all the rest has been soaked up by the oceans. That increase in ocean heat content is the energy equivalent of an atomic bomb exploding every second for the last 100 years. And THAT matters because heat stored in the oceans has a big impact on the weather.
Want to learn more about the topic in this video? Here are some key words/phrases to get your googling started:
- extreme weather – Conditions and events that occur with low frequency, but which often have significant impact on people and nature; e.g., heat waves, droughts, heavy downpours, floods, blizzards, windstorms, hurricanes
- ocean heat content – the energy stored as heat in the ocean
- evapotranspiration – the movement of water vapor from land, water, plant, or animal surface into the atmosphere, driven by the drying power of the air
- Church, J. A., N. J. White, L. F. Konikow, C. M. Domingues, J. G. Cogley, E. Rignot, J. M. Gregory, M. R. van den Broeke, A. J. Monaghan, and I. Velicogna (2011), Revisiting the Earth’s sea-level and energy budgets from 1961 to 2008, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L18601, doi:10.1029/2011GL048794.
- Diffenbaugh, N. S., Swain D. L. & Touma, D. Anthropogenic warming has increased drought risk in California. PNAS, doi 10.1073/pnas.1422385112 (2015). Published online.
- EPA. Climate Change Indicators in the United States: Sea Surface Temperature http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/indicators – Updated May 2014
- Gouretski, V., J. Kennedy, T. Boyer, and A. Köhl (2012), Consistent near-surface ocean warming since 1900 in two largely independent observing networks, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L19606, doi:10.1029/2012GL052975.
- IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): Climate change 2013: The Physical science basis. Fifth Assessment report of the IPCC [Stocker, T. F. et al. eds)]. Cambridge Univ. Press. 1535 pp. (2013).
- NOAA (NCEI). Global Ocean Heat and Salt Content. https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/OC5/3M_HEAT…
- Trenberth, K. E. Framing the way to relate climate extremes to climate change. Climatic Change, 115, 283-290, doi: 10.1007/s10584-012-0441-5 (2012).
- Trenberth, K. E., Dai, A., van der Schrier, G., Jones, P. D., Barichivich, J., Briffa, K. R. & Sheffield, J. Global warming and changes in drought. Nature Climate Change, 4, 17-22, doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE2067 (2014).
- Trenberth, K. E., JTFasullo, TG Shepherd. Attribution of climate extreme events. Nature Climate Change (in review).
- Trenberth, K.E. (personal communication).
- U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2014 National Climate Assessment .http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highl…
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