This article by John Englart was first published at Climate Action Moreland.
The official reports are in. 2016 was the hottest year on record according to the European Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). In Australia the Bureau of Meteorology declared 2016 the 4th warmest on record, but with record sea surface temperatures around the continent.
According to Copernicus:
- 2016 was 0.2 degrees warmer than 2015, the previous record year, which was warmer than 2014 also a record year
- Temperature peaked in February around 1.5C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution
- Extreme conditions impacted several regions across the Earth
- Average global Temperature exceeded 14.8°C.
- Average global temperature around 1.3°C higher than typical for the middle years of the 18th century.
- While El Nino boosted temperatures in early 2016, global temperatures remained well above average in the second half of 2016 associated partly with exceptionally low sea-ice cover in both the Arctic and Antarctic. (Arctic, Antarctic Ice in Free Fall)
In Paris at COP21 in December 2015 countries agreed to limit warming to well below 2C of warming above pre-industrial level and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C, in recognition this would reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
But in 2016 we reached 1.3C above pre-industrial temperatures. We are almost at the lower end of the Paris target and there is enormous inertia in the climate system requiring us to transition to zero carbon as rapidly as possible.
We know from extensive climate science research that global warming increases extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods and the intensity of storms. As well as personally felt impacts through weather disasters, it will have a long term impact on population health, availability of fresh water, crop yields and food security.
Director of ECMWF’s Copernicus Services Juan Garcés de Marcilla said:
“We are already seeing around the globe the impacts of a changing climate. Land and sea temperatures are rising along with sea-levels, while the world’s sea-ice extent, glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing; rainfall patterns are changing and climate-related extremes such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity for many regions. The future impact of climate change will depend on the effort we make now, in part achieved by better sharing of climate knowledge and information.”
To assist decision-makers, Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) have made all their data freely available so that government, private sector and citizens can identify opportunities for climate action.
Hot Australia on land and sea
For Australia 2016 was the 4th warmest on record, with a national mean temperature 0.87 °C above the 1961–1990 average. Rainfall across Australia was some 17 percent above average. In particular, March and autumn were the warmest on record for Australian mean temperature, while Ocean sea surface temperatures (SST) were the warmest on record for the Australian region, with an annual mean sea surface temperature 0.73 °C above average.
Remember our hot oppressive Melbourne night on Saturday 7 January? Minimum temperatures are warming in general faster than maximum temperatures. While maximum temperatures were 0.70 °C above average across Australia, minimum temperatures were 1.03 °C above average. Minimum temperatures were the second-warmest on record behind +1.16 °C in 1998.
Assistant Director Climate Information Services, Neil Plummer, said in a statement that 2016 was an eventful year with significant climate drivers affecting the country’s weather.
“The year started off very warm and dry, with bushfires in Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, and a nation-wide heatwave from late February to mid-March. We had our warmest autumn on record partly due to a very strong 2015–16 El Niño,” Mr Plummer said.
“In May the El Niño broke down and the dry start was followed by record wet from May to September as a negative Indian Ocean Dipole developed, with ocean waters warming to the northwest of Australia.
“Widespread, drought-breaking rains led to flooding in multiple states. Even northern Australia saw widespread rainfall, during what is usually the dry season, greening regions that had been in drought for several years,” he said.
Sea surface temperatures around Australia were the warmest on record in 2016, and were 0.77°C above average. This surpassed the previous record of +0.64 °C in 2010. This record SST warming helped cause major coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef at the start of 2016 affecting 93 percent of coral with a 22 percent mortality rate. It was only luck that Tropical Cyclone Winston cooled waters on the southern Barrier Reef to prevent an even greater coral bleaching disaster this year.
Some of the extreme weather events in Australia during 2016:
- Very large fires in northwest Tasmania during January and February following an extended dry period; about 123 800 ha burnt, mostly in remote areas
- Significant flooding in Tasmania in January
- Significant fires at the start of the year near Wye River on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and in southwest Western Australia affecting Yarloop and Waroona
- An East Coast Low caused major coastal flooding and erosion in New South Wales in early June, with flooding also affecting Victoria and large areas of Tasmania
- Flooding occurred from June to September in western, central and southern Queensland following the State’s second-wettest winter on record
- Periods of flooding in inland New South Wales and northern and western Victoria during September and October
- Supercell thunderstorms caused extensive damage across southeast Australia and parts of southeast Queensland during early November, with widespread reports of golf-ball sized hail
- Severe thunderstorms and a tornado outbreak caused widespread damage in South Australia during late September
- On 21 November, lightning storms associated with a strong and gusty change ignited grassfires across northern Victoria, caused damage across parts of Victoria, and along with a high pollen count, triggered thousands of incidents of thunderstorm asthma.
- A tropical low at the end of the year brought exceptional December rainfall to a number of regions between the northwest of Australia and the southeast, with some flooding and flash flooding resulting in the Kimberley, around Uluru in Central Australia, and around Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart.
Watch the Bureau of Meteorology summary:
And what does 2017 hold for us globally? UK Met Office has a forecast:
— Ed Hawkins (@ed_hawkins) December 20, 2016
Extreme weather is increasing, driven by climate change. We need to slash emissions and work on becoming more resilient through climate adaptation.
Now more than ever we need everyone to step up and take action: as individuals, businesses, local councils, state Government and our Federal Government. This is just as much an economic and jobs issue as an environmental issue. If we don’t take action, we just delay for a little while a much higher cost to the economy and society.
And finally, a little bit of climate art: Australia’s last 12 months at a glance: Average Rainfall, Maximum temperatures, Minimum temperatures, Mean temperatures, Sea Surface temperatures for each month and the year:
- Copernicus Climate Change System media release 5 Jan 2017 – Earth on the edge: Record breaking 2016 was close to 1.5°C warming
- Bureau of Meteorology media release 5 January 2017 – 2016 a year of extreme weather events
- Bureau of Meteorology, 5 January 2017 – Annual Climate Statement for 2016