WMO’s State of the Climate report – experts respond

The World Meteorological Organization has released its Provisional Statement on the Status of the Global Climate 2013. The preliminary assessment of global temperatures for the first nine months of 2013 has indicated that this year will likely be among the 10 warmest years since global records began in 1850.

Download the WMO report here.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 9.51.04 AMIt also found that January to September 2013 ties with 2003 as the seventh warmest such period on record.

The report also highlights the extreme temperatures experience by Australia in 2013.

Below, experts from New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom provide commentary on the report. Contact the SMC to speak to any of these experts.

Dr Jim Salinger, climate scientist and former president of the Commission for Agricultural Meteorology at the World Meteorological Organization comments:

“The globe continues to warm, whether it is the increase in surface temperature, shrinkage of Arctic sea ice, or melting of mountain glaciers.

“Here in New Zealand 2013 produced the warmest winter since reliable climate records began in the 1860s, with many fewer frosts than normal. The results of the end of summer snowline surveys show that the glacier ice volume of the Southern Alps has melted to approximately 38 cubic kilometres, 30 percent less than when the surveys commenced 37 years ago.

“Climate warming is alive and well in New Zealand.”

Comments gathered by the AusSMC

Dr David Jones is Manager of Climate Monitoring and Prediction Services at the Bureau of Meteorology comments:

“Each year, the Bureau of Meteorology provides Australian climate data to the World Meteorological Organization for inclusion in the WMO Status of the Global Climate.

“This year Australia recorded its warmest 12-month period on record in the period ending August. This record was broken in the 12 months to September and again in the 12 months to October. Australia recorded its hottest day on record on 7 January during the heatwave that affected large areas of Australia. This trend continued with the warmest winter day on record on 31 August.”

Dr Steve Rintoul is Research Team Leader at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and leader of the Oceans Program at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC, comments:

“As the report points out, 2013 was a record-breaking year for Australia, with the warmest month, summer and year on record.  Temperature measurements in any one year, of course, can’t tell us much about climate trends. To say if the earth is warming up, we need to look at a longer time period.  A more significant point is that global-average temperature in each of the last three decades has been warmer than any prior decade dating back to 1850, as reported in the recently released IPCC report. The report also provides compelling evidence that human activities are primarily responsible for the warming over the last 50 years.”

Dr Sarah Perkins is a Research Associate in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales, comments:

“The robust findings in the WMO report are consistent with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology reports and updates, as well as the conclusions from the comprehensive literature review provided by the IPCC 5th assessment report. Australia has seen the hottest 12 months on record broken three times over consecutive months during 2013. Such events are concerning, as they have occurred during the absence of El Nino, which is the phase of the ENSO variability cycle that is more readily associated with warmer than average temperatures. The much warmer than average temperatures contributed to the increased bushfire risk experienced this spring, with the bushfire season occurring earlier than ever before.

Moreover, peer reviewed scientific studies have shown that the probability of an extremely hot summer, such as 2012-2013, occurring was increased by 2.5-4 times because of human induced climate change. As greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity continue to rise, we can expect to see more records like this being broken well in to the 21st Century. This is extremely concerning for Australia, as increases in temperatures, particularly extreme events such as heat waves, have profound and adverse impacts on human health, infrastructure, agriculture and natural systems.”

Professor Kevin Parton is at the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University, NSW, comments:

“The overall message of the World Meteorological Organization statement is that recent conditions from all parts of the globe have been precisely what climate scientists predicted would occur under conditions of global warming. Apart from increasing global temperatures, the statement points to many, many examples of extreme weather from the UK to Russia, and from the Sudan to Argentina. It also highlights huge impacts of climate change on Arctic Sea Ice, the Greenland Ice Sheet, Antarctic Sea Ice and the rise in global sea level. If you look only at heat waves over the last 12 months, then extreme conditions occurred in Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, Austria, Finland, China and Japan.”

Dr Richard Corkish is Head of the School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering at the University of New South Wales and Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, comments:

“The report released today by the WMO is alarming and a clear motivator for leadership to push through barriers and resistance to rapid mass adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as the default underpinnings of our society and economy. There are no cheap paths ahead and all the options become more difficult and expensive with further delay and misdirection of resources. Renewables are increasingly competitive and grid parity with conventional electricity has been reached in many parts of the world already. Efficiency improvements commonly come at negative cost. It is past time to act!”

Comments gathered by the UK SMC

Dr Stephan Harrison, Associate Professor in Quaternary Science at the University of Exeter, said:

“The recent disaster in the Philippines has shown how vulnerable communities are being impacted by extreme weather events.  All the science says that such events are expected to get worse and more frequent.

“The latest message from the WMO on global temperatures should therefore be another wake up call to politicians from the developed and developing world.  Current trajectories for adaptation and mitigation are wildly inadequate to meet the challenges of global climate change”.

Dr David Reay, Senior Lecturer in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, comments:

“Year by year, decade after decade, our planet continues to warm.  The short-term spikes and troughs caused by ocean circulations make it easy to overlook the insidious spread of more and more heat through the world’s land, water and ice.  2013 is on course to be yet another new entry in the top ten warmest years ever recorded but, as global temperatures keep on rising, its chances of staying there are slim indeed.”

Professor Richard Allan, Professor of Climate Science at the University of Reading, comments:

“The planet’s climate is hugely complex but thanks to increasingly realistic simulations and more comprehensive observations the human contribution to the warming of climate is becoming increasingly clear.

“In the last 40 years global surface temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees C. This doesn’t sound much but is about 10% of the global temperature rise since the last ice age 20,000 years ago – when ice sheets covered parts of the UK.”

On the slowdown:

“Global surface warming has slowed over the last 15 years but heat has continued to accumulate within the oceans since 2000 – at a rate equivalent to each of the 7 billion humans on the planet using twenty 2kW kettles to continuously boil the sea.

“The most up-to-date research shows that natural fluctuations in the ocean have caused the heating from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to build up at deeper levels below the sea surface rather than the upper layers which influence surface temperatures.

“This is important since it provides evidence that the slowdown in surface warming is temporary and we can expect a return to substantial surface warming over the coming decades.”

On Arctic ice:

“Arctic ice volume has recovered slightly from the record minimum in 2012 yet the 5000 cubic kilometres of Arctic sea ice remaining in September 2013 is less than half the 1979-2012 September average – and it is obvious that the extent and volume have been diminishing rapidly over the last 30 years.”

On tropical storms:

“It is more likely than not that there will be an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the Western North Pacific and North Atlantic by the late 21st century.  This is based upon detailed simulations but also on basic physics: more ocean heat and greater quantities of moisture can increase their power and rainfall intensity; while changes in winds throughout the atmosphere and sea surface patterns which influence where Typhoons and Hurricanes will occur – and how severe they will be – are more difficult to pin down.”

Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, comments:

“This report highlights the continuing influence we are having on the world’s climate.  The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are now about 40% higher than pre-industrial times, causing a substantial increase of the net amount of energy entering the Earth’s climate system.

“We can clearly see the impact this is having on rising sea levels, decreasing Arctic sea ice, and in the large number of high temperature records broken around the world.  The record super-typhoon in the Philippines came too late to be included in this report but is also an indicator of events that have become more likely in our changing climate.  In addition, the WMO have now said that 2013 appears to be on track to be one of the 10 warmest years since 1850.”

Prof Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at the University of Cambridge, comments:

“The Philippines tragedy was made worse by the facts that sea level rise is leading to bigger flooding effects from storm surges, and that the rise in sea surface temperature worldwide is allowing a typhoon to build up higher energy levels.

“The report also states ‘the coldest years now are hotter than the hottest years before 1998’.  What they are saying is that despite interannual fluctuations (always jumped upon by climate sceptics) the trend is so strongly upwards in temperature that even ‘hot’ years in our memories (e.g. summer 1976 in the UK) are – when globally averaged – actually cooler than even the coolest year in our present era.”

Prof Jonathan Gregory, Climate Researcher at the University of Reading, comments:

“Thanks to satellite observations over recent years, we now have much improved estimates – not only of the rate of global mean sea level rise, but what is contributing to it.  The sum of these contributions agrees with what we observe in the real world, so we are very confident that we can account for this trend in sea level rise as being the result of thermal expansion (as the ocean water warms up) and ice loss on land (from glaciers and ice sheets).”