Climate: From Global to Local

Globally, 2015 was officially the hottest year on record… by a long shot. Data from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as well as meteorological agencies in Britain and Japan all reveal the same. And we now know where the U.S. Senate stands on the matter of climate change. From NOAA:

During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average. This was the highest among all 136 years in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set last year by 0.29°F (0.16°C) and marking the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century. This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken.


From NSIDC. Monthly December ice extent for 1979 to 2015 shows a decline of 3.4% per decade.

The year was also significant in Arctic sea ice melt. The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that 2015 will be remembered for a few major events, including the lowest Arctic maximum in the satellite record, and the fourth lowest Arctic minimum in the satellite record. Sea ice has declined 13.4 percent each decade between 1981 and 2010.

An article published in November 2015 based on a recently released study predicts that by midcentury, the Arctic coastline and most of the Arctic ocean will be devoid of sea ice for 60 additional days per year. That change would alter polar environments and change our global climate. From a NSIDC press release:

“What we have seen this summer reinforces our conclusions that Arctic sea ice extent is in a long-term decline and that we are headed for a seasonally ice-free ocean,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.

Serreze will join the Colorado Foundation for Water Education at its annual Climate and Colorado’s Water Future Workshop on March 11, 2016, explaining his research before participants tour the INSTAAR Stable Isotope Lab to understand how researchers use ice cores to study stable isotopes which reveal information about past climates. Workshop participants will then hear from experts about what that global climate science means locally in Colorado for ecosystems, water managers, policy makers and citizens.

coloradoclimateplancover092015In Colorado, the state is preparing for changes yet to come from warming. In September 2015, the state released a Colorado Climate Plan, which identifies challenges and recommends action to prepare for temperatures projected to rise an additional 2.5 to 5 degrees fahrenheit by 2050. Locally, increasing temperatures bring shifts in the timing of snowmelt runoff, water quality concerns, stressed ecosystems, more extreme weather events, among other challenges. The plan includes a section on water which details those forecasted stresses. From a local news report:

Local climatologists say the warming trend has been responsible for increased extreme weather, including in Colorado. If and when it continues, they say it could cause even more extreme weather in the future.

“More high temperatures, more heat waves, more drought and wildfires in the summertime. And then stronger storms, more strong hurricanes, potential for greater damage from wind storms and flooding,” said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Scientists said that with an increase in temperatures comes an increase in moisture along the atmosphere due to evaporation, which contributes to extreme weather.

Trenberth added that mountain climates like Colorado are actually more sensitive to the warming of the earth, due to the swings between hot and cold.

Recommendations in the Colorado Climate Plan include encouraging water efficiency, encouraging water providers to complete integrated water resource planning, incorporating climate variability and change into long-term statewide water planning efforts, assisting local communities in developing regional and local resiliency plans and more. Learn more about the Climate Plan here, and attend our workshop where we’ll hear from Taryn Finnessey, the state climate change risk management specialist who helped develop the plan, on those steps moving forward.

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