Global Temperatures And Atmospheric CO2: Hottest March Ever; CO2 At All-Time High

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The map of March land and sea temperatures shows warmth over much of the globe, with a cold pocket over eastern Canada and New England. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

The map of March land and sea temperatures shows warmth over much of the globe, with a cold pocket over eastern Canada and New England. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

NOAA published its report on global land and sea temperatures for March on Friday, April 17. Inasmuch as five of the previous seven months set new records, it was not surprising that March’s land and sea temperatures were the highest ever recorded for that month.

The three months of January through March, and the most recent calendar year are also the warmest ever recorded for those periods of time.

Separately, but not coincidentally, the instruments on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii found atmospheric CO2 concentrations to be above 404 parts per billion for the first time on April 14. That was the first of four consecutive days above 400.

An Overview Of March Worldwide Land And Sea Temperatures

Most of the Earth was warmer than normal in March – let’s look at some specifics:

      • Very much above normal temperatures stretched across all of northern Europe and Asia.
      • The United Sates and Canada were split down the middle, with very cold temperatures in the east and very warm temperatures in the west.
      • All of South America, except for the northern tip, was warm.
      • Most of Africa was warm, but the northwest was cold.
      • Northern and eastern Australia were very warm.
      • All of India was colder than normal.
      • The largest ocean temperature anomaly continues to be off the west coast of the US and Canada, with the maximum in the Gulf of Alaska.
      • Overall, warmth was spread evenly between land and sea: The land surface temperatures were second highest for March, and ocean temperatures were third highest.
      • Warmth was also spread uniformly between the northern and southern hemispheres: The northern hemisphere had its second warmest March and the southern hemisphere tied its third warmest.
The map of precipitation anomaly for March shows that much of the US and western Europe were dry, while Turkey and the Balkans were very wet. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

The map of precipitation anomaly for March shows that much of the US and western Europe were dry, while Turkey and the Balkans were very wet. Analysis courtesy of NOAA.

March Precipitation

Though precipitation varies greatly from month to month, some trends continued in March:

  • The drought goes on in California and the American west.
  • Most of Europe continued to be dry.
  • Heavy rains inundated the Balkans and Turkey.
  • Australia and the southern part of South America were dry.
  • India was wetter than normal.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Arctic sea ice extent has been measured by satellite since 1979.

The March measurement was 7.9% below the 1981-2010 average — the lowest Arctic sea ice extent ever measured for the month of March.

Atmospheric CO2 Reaches New High

The plot of daily CO2 readings on Mount Mauna Loa shows that the atmospheric concentration has been over 404 ppb for the last four days, something that never happened before. Graph courtesy of NOAA.

The plot of daily CO2 readings on Mount Mauna Loa shows that the atmospheric concentration has been over 404 ppb for the last four days, something that never happened before. Graph courtesy of NOAA.

Since pre-industrial times, the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide (CO2) has risen from 280 to over 400 parts per billion (ppb). In the past week, the value of this greenhouse gas concentration, as measured on Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii surpassed, 404 ppb for the first time.

The highest reading of 404.83 came on April 14, and the concentration was over 404 for four consecutive days before falling to 403.44 yesteday.

The weekly average for the week starting April 12 was 404.02, surpassing the old record of 403.42 set the previous week.

Carbon dioxide concentration normally peaks in May, so new daily and weekly records are likely to be set in the next few weeks.

Where Is The CO2 Coming From?

Though some of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide may be coming from other sources, the majority comes from power plants and automobile tailpipes.

The process of energy production from hydrocarbons is not a complicated one: A single carbon atom combines with a molecule of oxygen (consisting of two atoms) to make a carbon dioxide molecule (CO2). This chemical reaction releases energy, which is used to power our modern world. The CO2 produced by the combustion process is normally released into the air by power plants and cars.

Carbon dioxide has a natural atmospheric cycle in which the gas is expelled from volcanic sources and washed out of the atmosphere by precipitation. However, this process is a long one; the rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the last 150 years is unprecedented except for times of very high volcanic activity.

Stemming The Tide Of CO2 Increase

Though the production of greenhouse gases in general, and carbon dioxide in particular, has leveled off in the United States in recent years, the production of energy from fossil fuel burning continues to increase in developing countries. India and China are building coal-fired power plants — the worst of the fossil fuel power sources in terms of CO2 emissions — at a rate of about one plant per week.

The basic facts of the intransigent problem of increasing energy use hasn’t changed: Developed countries want to retain their lavish lifestyle; and developing countries want to acquire that lifestyle. A new UN-sponsored climate conference will convene in Paris in December. Representatives of the two sides will try again to reach a compromise that will actually reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

Decoded Science wishes them luck.

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