Arctic Hockey

I’ve been studying how temperature has changed over the years in the Arctic. The longest record I’ve got is for land areas only, from the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which starts way back in 1750:

Admittedly, the earlier data are less precise (and less reliable), mainly because there’s so much less of it. Complete coverage of the Arctic (land areas) doesn’t kick in until about 1900. Still, this is what the Berkeley team came up with for the Arctic (which I’m defining as latitudes from 60°N to the pole).

I’ve been studying other records too, and may soon have more to report on Arctic temperature change. But for the moment, I just wanted to share the above graph with you.

Because that’s one hell of a hockey stick.

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22 responses to “Arctic Hockey

  1. You only have to look at the trajectory of the Arctic heat to know why the Arctic Sea ice will all be gone in the blink of an eye (geophysical time frame). The loss of sea ice is likely lagging behind temperature rise, but I don’t have any clear sense about what the time lag would be. My gut sense is 20 to 30 years of baked-in heat rise already on its way to us and the Arctic, but the lag time is really only of minor interest anyway because we are continuing to spew CO2 and CO2e into the atmosphere at rates never seen in the history of our species, so the lagtime (whatever it might be) will be buried in the temp rise that we are continuing to produce. The mainstream media is starting to talk about climate disaster, but I think we blew by the climate disaster stage years ago and we are now in the climate folly stage.

    Sometimes people think I have a dark and hopeless view about our situation, but I have moved on from identifying as an American or a human being and I just think of myself as an earthling. One among billions and billions of living things on this planet. The upside of the current climate folly is that the planet has historically recovered from a major extinction event in around 10 million years, so our climate folly and the sixth great extinction are not the end of the world, they are just going to be the end of a lot of species and individuals and a new beginning for the survivors. I feel pretty cheerful and positive about all that. I think it’s an amazing planet and it’s fantastic that we have sprung into existence and gotten to take part, even if our part has arrived at the climate folly stage. It’s like the end of the game show for many beings: thanks for playing! We may not get any lovely parting gifts, but it really has been great getting to play, has it not?



  2. Thanks for this. One thing that strikes me, aside from the rocketing median line, is the large variation. Has there been any research into why that is so large? Or is it no larger than any other similarly sized region?

    • “maybe if we’d seen a flattening of the Keeling Curve in the last few years but quite the opposite”

      Why are people looking for the Keeling Curve (or surface temperature record, for that matter) to “flatten”? (not the first time I’ve noticed that sentiment, by the way)

      I’m serious. If we were – counter to all indications – dropping our emissions by 1%,2%,3% a year, whatever, the Keeling Curve would still be rocketing up. It would take many, many years to tease out any discernible “flattening”.

      First things first, obviously – we need to at least start reducing emissions. But I seriously worry that the public will need to be pre-conditioned/educated that there isn’t going to be any short-term positive reinforcement from iconic metrics like the Keeling Curve or surface temperature record.

      It’s going to be more like going on an extremely strict diet and exercise program and having to be thrilled with “good news” that you only put on 20 pounds this year instead of 25, etc. For years and years.

      Even though I hope I correctly sense a tangible shift in the latter half of 2018 in public concern and agitation for “something” to be done, I worry that the concern is a mile wide and an inch deep. If they are only going to stick with the necessary changes if they thry’re expecting a pony every Christmas, they – and the already recalcitrant – will be primed for backsliding.

      • oops, that should have been a reply to T-rev

      • But if the total CO2 dumped into the atmosphere reduces, won’t that be reflected in the Keeling curve immediately?

      • John Brookes wrote

        But if the total CO2 dumped into the atmosphere reduces, won’t that be reflected in the Keeling curve immediately?

        I don’t think it is that simple but, yes, reducing emissions should reduce the rise in the atmospheric CO2 concentration. But I doubt it would be noticeable for some time. Remember that the rise in emissions was signficantly slowed in the 2014-2016 time frame (I think one of those three years even saw a slight decrease) but there wasn’t a noticeable change in the Keeling Curve. However, most emissions figures don’t include land use changes because that is so uncertain, so I’m not sure what the total effective emissions were during that “hiatus” period.

        So it could be a very difficult period ahead, if we reduce emissions but don’t see the benefits for some time. In that situation, there might be a push to abandon actions, if they are not having an immediate measurable effect.

      • MR says “reducing emissions should reduce the rise in the atmospheric CO2 concentration”
        I think I would make that “might” rather than should. Enough large planetary features are in flux now that I don’t think we know how planet earth processes CO2 with enough certainty to use the term “should” with regard to the relationship between our CO2 emissions and the Keeling curve.

        It’s a minor quibble because your post seems quite solid. I think we should now transition to discussion of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere rather than emissions and emission reports. The accumulation number, per MLO and elsewhere, is a pretty hard number and incorporates changes in the global carbon cycle to give us a real measurement of how we are doing at slowing global heating.

        I also think the accumulation number makes the most sense as the touchstone number because I think in the next 20 years we will see deployment of things like direct air (maybe ocean, as well) capture of CO2 as we struggle to reduce further degradation of our habitat. CO2 accumulation is really the number that matters. I think emission numbers might have made more sense as the number to watch at CO2 accumulation levels under 350 ppm when the planetary carbon cycle was likely fairly stable in the state that allowed our species to evolve and thrive.

        Does that make sense?

      • There’s a lot going on in the carbon cycle, with natural fluxes much bigger than the human ones. Consider, for example, that the magnitude of the annual cycle is currently roughly comparable to the magnitude of the annual growth in concentration. (~2 ppm/year.) So presumably, if human emissions suddenly stopped entirely at the low point in the annual cycle, you’d see pretty much no change for several months, then a gradual decline for a few more months. Then you’d see concentrations *rise* again due to the natural cycle. Over time, you’d see a gradual fall over repeated cycles, according to the natural sinking efficacy. But that is pretty slow.

        Dr. David Archer wrote about this:

        Our ‘efforts’ dominate over time because they are relentlessly unidirectional.

  3. @sbm

    [quote] Sometimes people think I have a dark and hopeless view about our situation [/quote]

    Not at all, acceptance is we’re you’re at :) I don’t see humans as changing their behaviour, maybe if we’d seen a flattening of the Keeling Curve in the last few years but quite the opposite and now CH4 ppb seems to be accelerating as well, perhaps Tamino will look at that soon and check out my mark 1 eyeball plot ? This year will be the highest CO2 emissions ever recorded. As Professor Kevin Anderson points out, we still have the irony of climate scientist and their giant emissions footprint flying to conferences to point out how dire it is :) the cognitive dissonance is … astounding.

    While I do believe nothing will save us, that doesn’t excuse us that are aware of the need to mitigate emissions to continue with high emisisons, as Peter Kalmus points out

    I am down to roughly 2t per annum, I can probably cut another 0.5t per annum yet and I am here to watch with interest. I was just listening this morning to a podcast suggesting here in Australia the Koala could be virtually extinct by 2050, at the current rate, what a thing to observe :( see ice and iconic species extinction (the last Northern White Rhino last year) Moose next ?

    • good article in Yes magazine. On target. Yes, I would be engaged in a different manner if we had seen emissions plummet to zero, but that hasn’t happened, and maybe our species cannot make that happen in a volitional way. Your CO2 footprint is tiny and I tip my hat to you. I also have not flown in a few decades. There are places I would like to go, things I would like to see, but I just can’t justify the cost (true, complete cost) of travel. I drive around the PNW in my Prius and my propane-conversion S10 with tiny camper and I feel like I live a full and rewarding life in retirement. I feel very bad about the situation for my kids and grandkids (and all the various earthlings who are or will struggle with the sixth extinction).
      Live well, friends

    • T-Rev: “(the last Northern White Rhino last year) Moose next ?”

      Boris: Vat about Squirrel?

  4. I admit I am still at about 5 t.
    And I am a advocate of a worldwide cap and trade system on all emissions.

    • Much as any individual might like to be virtuous, it is only a systemic change (basically a price on carbon and a lot of r&d) that will save us. When our electricity comes from renewables, our footprint drops. When you can only buy electric cars, our footprint drops. When houses have minimum thermal ratings, they use less power. I’m generally against regulation, but when faced with a big investment like a house, I think you might have to force people to see that a well designed house is cheaper in the long term.

  5. Looks like civilisation is pucked.

  6. It’s relatively rewarding (? Not sure if that’s an appropriate word!) to see that some people have come to the same conclusion that I have had for quite a while already and that is that we’ve already passed the point of no return to a new climate and ecological state that will spur on our current extinction event so that Earth will be entering a new phase over the next few centuries and millennia comparable to what happened after the KT extinction. I’ve been referring to what humans have been doing, especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as a “human comet”. Based on my understanding of human nature and the resultant conclusions that nothing consequential will be done (and probably should have been done years ago) to change our suicidal course which one could say began long ago when our species learned how to make and use fire, I think it should be obvious to any thinking person that our civilization, if not our whole species, is “pucked” to paraphrase Graeme Hird. I think smallbluemike has summarized things quite well.

    • Yes, it is really difficult to believe that humans will somehow change their characteristic behaviour until forced to do so (by clear, unarguable changes in the environment), so, in that sense, we’re not going to avoid catastrophic impacts of our own making. Some will still hope that electing this or that politician will change the course of events but if they act in a significant way, the economy will “suffer” and they will be out in the next election cycle.

  7. ” the earlier data are less precise (and less reliable), mainly because there’s so much less of it. Complete coverage of the Arctic (land areas) doesn’t kick in until about 1900. Still, this is what the Berkeley team came up with for the Arctic”
    From what you have stated the error bars in the Berkely graph should be quite wide in 1750 and much closer in modern times. Instead we have a one size fits all up to 1980 then a shrink in the error range.
    If they cannot get their SD right then Resplandy all over again.

  8. Some ‘hope’?
    “And as a bonus since the ocean pastures we restore and the abundance of fish we grow are carbon based life this all takes place through the repurposing of billions of tonnes of CO2 from it’s harmful form in the ocean into life itself. What could be better than that. The world’s most delicious solution to climate change.”

  9. Off topic.
    As always feel free to delete if not appropriate tamino

    I came across this twitter account.
    Some may find it amusing I know I did.
    M Tobis has a good explanation here.
    View at

    “It seems to me that we should stop ignoring the climate deniers for a while.

    After all, they stop at nothing to ridicule what they paint as a massive, global climate change conspiracy to, um, something something but it’s bad and global and a conspiracy and you can make big bucks at it. Yet they seem immune to ridicule themselves, even though they make ridiculous damned claims.

    A bit over a week ago I stumbled on a whole vein of particularly clueless tweets about climate.

    It struck me that this level of confusion was pretty much going unanswered, even as people with more or less a decent grasp of our predicament (some more than others) were being uniformly mocked as part of a conspiracy or even a dogma or a “religion”. Wouldn’t it make sense to find the most absurd of these and highlight them?

    I asked for suggestions for names for the tweetstream, and a few suggestions were forthcoming, but I was immediately taken by the first suggestion, Gavin Schmidt’s idea, the “Ministry of Silly Squawks”. And so @sillysquawks was born.

    Admittedly, this is a mean sport. There’s the “they go low, we go high” approach, and reproach, to this sort of thing. Admittedly, the trolls embarrass and mock reasonable people. If we return the favour, are we not sinking to their level? One could see it that way.

    On the other hand, this is the rare case in which the playing field, once we get over our scruples, is tilted in our favour. You see, if you actually look at what these people are willing to say to each other, it is very, very silly.

    What do I want to achieve with it? Twitter has achieved something very like what I had in mind — focused on a particularly silly squawk and woefully embarrassed the person behind it.”