Greenhouse gases surge to new highs in 2017: Report

Indian women fetching water from a pit dug in the bed of Lokpal Sagar lake, near Manas Nagar village in Panna district in Madhya Pradesh state, in May. The region has been experiencing a severe drought due to a shortage of rainfall in recent years.
Indian women fetching water from a pit dug in the bed of Lokpal Sagar lake, near Manas Nagar village in Panna district in Madhya Pradesh state, in May. The region has been experiencing a severe drought due to a shortage of rainfall in recent years.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Climate change caused Arctic ice to melt at record levels, abnormally hot temperatures

TAMPA • Planet-warming greenhouse gases surged to new highs as abnormally hot temperatures swept the globe and ice melted at record levels in the Arctic last year due to climate change, a major US report said on Wednesday.

The annual State of the Climate Report, compiled by more than 450 scientists from over 60 countries, describes worsening climate conditions worldwide in 2017, the same year US President Donald Trump pulled out of the landmark Paris climate deal. The United States is the world's second leading polluter after China, but has rolled back environmental safeguards under Mr Trump, who has declared climate change a "Chinese hoax".

The 300-page report issued by the American Meteorological Society and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mentioned the word "abnormal" a dozen times, referring to storms, droughts, scorching temperatures and record low ice cover in the Arctic.

Last year, the top three most dangerous greenhouse gases released into earth's atmosphere - carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - reached new record highs. The annual global average CO2 concentration at the earth's surface climbed to 405 parts per million, "the highest in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years", it said. "The global growth rate of CO2 has nearly quadrupled since the early 1960s."

The record for the hottest year in modern times was set in 2016, but 2017 was not far behind, with "much-warmer-than-average conditions" across most of the world, it said. Annual record high temperatures were observed in Argentina, Bulgaria, Spain and Uruguay, while Mexico "broke its annual record for the fourth consecutive year".

Smashing more heat records, temperatures reached 43.4 deg C on Jan 27 at Puerto Madryn, Argentina, "the highest temperature ever recorded so far south anywhere in the world". The world's highest temperature ever for May was observed on May 28 in Turbat, western Pakistan, with a high of 53.5 deg C.

"The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, with the four warmest years occurring since 2014," said the report. Last year marked either the second or third hottest since the mid-1800s, depending on which data is consulted.

In another alarming milestone, last year was also "the warmest non-El Nino year", referring to the absence of the occasional ocean warming trend that pushes temperatures higher than normal.

Unprecedented heat enveloped the Arctic, where land surface temperature was 1.6 deg C above the 1981-2010 average. Arctic temperatures were the second highest - after 2016 - since records began in 1900. "Today's abnormally warm Arctic air and sea surface temperatures have not been observed in the last 2,000 years," the report said.

And glaciers across the world shrank for the 38th year in a row. "Cumulatively since 1980, this loss is equivalent to slicing 22m off the top of the average glacier," it added. In the Antarctic, sea ice extent remained below average all year, with record lows observed during the first four months.

Global sea levels reached record highs last year for the sixth straight year. The world's average sea level is now 7.7cm higher than in 1993.

2017 precipitation "was clearly above the long-term average", said the report. Warmer ocean temperatures have led to increasing moisture in the air, particularly in the last three years, causing more rain.

Climate change can also exacerbate extreme weather. Some parts of the world suffered extended droughts, demonstrating that "extreme precipitation is not evenly distributed across the globe".

Ocean warming has been blamed for widespread coral bleaching. "The most recent global coral bleaching lasted three full years, June 2014 to May 2017, and was the longest, most widespread and almost certainly most destructive such event on record," said the report.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'Greenhouse gases surge to new highs in 2017: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe