We are inundated by statistics all day long. It can be difficult to assess what they really mean. For example, does the fact that 2018 was only the 4th hottest year on record mean global warming is slowing? Not hardly, in fact, quite the opposite: Please read on.

NOAA, NASA, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and Berkeley Earth have all confirmed that 2018 was the 4th hottest in terms of global surface air temperatures. Average Mean Annual Land Surface Air Temperatures were 14.7° Celsius (58.4°F in 2018, just 0.2C (.3°F) off the record year 2016.

According to Berkeley Earth, in 2018 about 4.3% of the planet set new local records for the warmest annual average, including significant areas in Europe and the Middle East.

The five warmest years have been 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 (not in that order). The ten hottest years have occurred since 1998. While there are variations in the details, other agencies from around the planet report remarkably consistent overall results.

2018 was a La Niña year, a natural oceanic temperature cycle that alternates with El Niño. La Niña years are virtually always cooler than El Niño years. The fact that 2018 made it into the top five is all the more alarming for that reason. BTW, an El Niño appears to be forming, although prediction is not 100% accurate.

The next statistic is more troubling:

2018 was the warmest year on record for global ocean temperatures. 

Polar Ice Primer

Over past two decades, the ocean has been warming about 40% faster than previously understood. To a large degree, that is because the oceans have been acting as a buffer, storing the heat trapped by greenhouse gases and temporarily delaying the onslaught of global warming. As the planet has warmed, the oceans have provided a sort of climate change cushion.

For the past 20 years, the waters of the Earth have been absorbing and storing massive amounts of heat energy as polar sea ice disappears. See the page on polar ice classifications. (Incidentally, the oceans have also been sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere as well.)

Unlike the atmosphere, ocean temperatures fluctuates over decades. When the ocean stores heat, it is slowly released back into the atmosphere, another feedback that may well be irreversible.

Global atmospheric temperatures will continue to set records over the next five years, according to the British Weather Service (MET).

Antarctic sea ice extent is at a record low and in the Arctic, temperatures are climbing about twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Global wind patterns are being disrupted, causing extreme weather events around the planet. This is the origin of the polar vortex, but that is only one manifestation.

The ecosystems of both polar regions are changing so profoundly and so fast that scientists are hard pressed to keep up. And of course, the permafrost is not so perma any more. That is a separate topic.

The final statistic: Atmospheric CO₂ crossed the 414 PPM for the first time at the Mona Loa, HI recording station for the first time last month. Pledges and world conferences aside, the growth of CO₂ in the atmosphere is accelerating, not decreasing. Prior to the industrial revolution, the average CO₂ measurement would have been 280 PPM. The Earth broke the 400 PPM measurement in 2016. Continued CO₂ growth is forecast for 2019 as emissions continue to rise and ecosystems absorb CO₂. If the predicted El Niño takes hold, the results will be magnified.

The greenhouse effect of CO₂ peak about ten years after it is emitted. Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years.

The chart curves up logarithmically and yes, this looks just like Al Gore’s hockey stick chart. (Actually it’s Michael Mann’s hockey stick and the original was for temperature, but they are most definitely related). But whether you like Al Gore or not has nothing to do with whether or not he has his facts straight.

Albert Einstein could also be a bit of an jerk, they say, and yet, you know: pretty smart guy.

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