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NASA Study Finds World Warmth Edging Ancient Levels; 1° C Additional Warming Could Constitute Dangerous Change

Temperature change on average from 2001-2005. 2005 was the warmest ranked year on record. Dark red indicates the greatest warming and purple indicates the greatest cooling. Click image to enlarge. Credit: NASA

A new study by NASA climatologists finds that the world’s temperature is reaching a level that has not been seen in thousands of years.

Noting “that this critical ocean region [Western Pacific], and probably the planet as a whole, is approximately as warm now as at the Holocene maximum and within ~1°C of the maximum temperature of the past million years,” they conclude that additional global warming of more than 1° C relative to 2000 “will constitute dangerous climate change as judged from likely effects on sea level and extermination of species.

The study appears as an Open Access article in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y. and colleagues from Columbia University, Sigma Space Partners, Inc., and the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

The study concludes that, because of a rapid warming trend over the past 30 years, the Earth is now reaching and passing through the warmest levels in the current interglacial period, which has lasted nearly 12,000 years. This warming is forcing a migration of plant and animal species toward the poles.

The study includes worldwide instrumental temperature measurements during the past century. These data reveal that the Earth has been warming at the remarkably rapid rate of approximately 0.2° Celsius (.36° Fahrenheit) per decade for the past 30 years. This observed warming is similar to the warming rate predicted in the 1980s in initial global climate model simulations with changing levels of greenhouse gases.

This evidence implies that we are getting close to dangerous levels of human-made pollution,” said Hansen. In recent decades, human-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) have become the dominant climate change factor.

The study notes that the world’s warming is greatest at high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, and it is larger over land than over ocean areas. The enhanced warming at high latitudes is attributed to effects of ice and snow. As the Earth warms, snow and ice melt, uncovering darker surfaces that absorb more sunlight and increase warming, a process called a positive feedback. Warming is less over ocean than over land because of the great heat capacity of the deep-mixing ocean, which causes warming to occur more slowly there.

Hansen and his colleagues in New York collaborated with David Lea and Martin Medina-Elizade of UCSB to obtain comparisons of recent temperatures with the history of the Earth over the past million years. The California researchers obtained a record of tropical ocean surface temperatures from the magnesium content in the shells of microscopic sea surface animals, as recorded in ocean sediments.

One of the findings from this collaboration is that the Western Equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans are now as warm as, or warmer than, at any prior time in the Holocene. The Holocene is the relatively warm period that has existed for almost 12,000 years, since the end of the last major ice age. The Western Pacific and Indian Oceans are important because, as these researchers show, temperature change there is indicative of global temperature change. Therefore, by inference, the world as a whole is now as warm as, or warmer than, at any time in the Holocene.

According to Lea, “The Western Pacific is important for another reason, too: it is a major source of heat for the world’s oceans and for the global atmosphere.

In contrast to the Western Pacific, the researchers find that the Eastern Pacific Ocean has not shown an equal magnitude of warming. They explain the lesser warming in the East Pacific Ocean, near South America, as being due to the fact this region is kept cool by upwelling, rising of deeper colder water to shallower depths. The deep ocean layers have not yet been affected much by human-made warming.

Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the increased temperature difference between the Western and Eastern Pacific may boost the likelihood of strong El Niños, such as those of 1983 and 1998. An El Niño is an event that typically occurs every several years when the warm surface waters in the West Pacific slosh eastward toward South America, in the process altering weather patterns around the world.

The most important result found by these researchers is that the warming in recent decades has brought global temperature to a level within about one degree Celsius (1.8° F) of the maximum temperature of the past million years.

That means that further global warming of 1 degree Celsius defines a critical level. If warming is kept less than that, effects of global warming may be relatively manageable. During the warmest interglacial periods the Earth was reasonably similar to today. But if further global warming reaches 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know. The last time it was that warm was in the middle Pliocene, about three million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today.

—James Hansen

Global warming is already beginning to have noticeable effects in nature. Plants and animals can survive only within certain climatic zones, so with the warming of recent decades many of them are beginning to migrate poleward. A study that appeared in Nature Magazine in 2003 found that 1,700 plant, animal and insect species moved poleward at an average rate of 6 kilometers (about 4 miles) per decade in the last half of the 20th century.

That migration rate is not fast enough to keep up with the current rate of movement of a given temperature zone (isotherm), which has reached about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) per decade in the period 1975 to 2005.

Inference of imminent dangerous climate change may stimulate discussion of “engineering fixes” to reduce global warming. The notion of such a “fix” is itself dangerous if it diminishes efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, yet it also would be irresponsible not to consider all ways to minimize climate damage. Considering the evidence that aerosol effects on clouds cause a large negative forcing, we suggest that seeding of clouds by ships plying selected ocean regions deserves investigation. However, given that a large portion of human-made CO2 will remain in the air for many centuries, sensible policies must focus on devising energy strategies that greatly reduce CO2 emissions.

—The Authors


  • “Global temperature change”; James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Ken Lo, David W. Lea, and Martin Medina-Elizade; PNAS, published online Sep 25, 2006; doi:10.1073/pnas.0606291103


Hydrogen Fan

I must confess to believing that global climate change represents the largest threat to humanities long-term survival. Most reports consistently stress that the world is teetering on dangerous levels of planetary warmth to the extent that every other possible problem faced by mankind will fade into insignificance. I am no meteorologist and with rudimentary understanding of the whole phenomena I am more than apprehensive about the problem and so I have several questions. In a practical sense what can individuals do to remedy the problem, can it be soleved at all? How long before conditions spiral into an irreversable cycle of perpetual warming? And most importantly how hot is too hot for the planet to survive?


In a practical sense what can individuals do to remedy the problem, can it be soleved at all?

The short answer is nothing at all :(
These changes are based on the aggregate behaviour of many humans. Therefore your actions will be meaningful only if your are with the majority. For instance, you can purchase solar panels to use "green" electricity and will have no effect if everyone else doesn't do it as well. Sad but true.

In order for the majority to be able to and/or be motivated to look at green alternatives (such as solar panels, hybrid cars, etc.) their costs have to come down enough to become competitve with the current solutions. That requires significant development investment, both private and public, which is not happening yet. Seems buying weapons and fighting is far more important these days. Go figure.

How long before conditions spiral into an irreversable cycle of perpetual warming?

You will get no answer from anyone, experts included. Our lives are far too short. This post seems to indicate that we are approaching this threshold, but no one can give you a precise specific value. Scary.

And most importantly how hot is too hot for the planet to survive?

Keep in mind there are already species that survive in deserts and other hot places. That means that there is always going to be some species that will survive unless temperature increase is truly dramaic, like 2x. Moreover, note that we humans have already destroyed a lot of species in the couple of centuries. Up to this point we have been doing far more damage than the climate change. By the time it gets too hot we will already wipe out whatever is left for our own survival.

Bottom line is that it is us, humans, who are "killing" this planet. Increasing temps is just our own weapon of our own making. If we are so smart and have such wonderful tek then we could easily reverse it and cool the planet, tight ;)


What the individual can do is stop having so many kids. If the vast majority of temperature increases is due to human activity, there needs to be less of us. Our environmental impact is due to our numbers. If estimates of 9 billion people by 2050 are accurate we have big problems. I won't be here by then but I feel sorry for those who are. I didn't have any kids so it pretty much stops with me. We should do something before the planet does it for us. I don't think she is going to be very nice about it.


I think that the only possible corrective course of action right now is geoengineering, a risky but probably necessary approach.


those are both very poor points of views to have. why even bother reading anything on this website if you think we're all doomed anyway? It's forums like this that are spawning mass change. Granted this website isn't reaching everybody (or influencing everybody), but if we all threw our hands in the air in defeat now we would definitely all be screwed. At least there are people out there trying to influence and educate others about the arising problems. This will spread knowledge and thus change. Live by example. If climate change is important to you, do everything in your power to change your own habits, whether the individual impact is directly small on the climate, you will be living by example and that can be contagious. Just do the best you can. Small changes (per individual) on a large scale (the world) can have very big impacts.

As for the not having kids thing, population can be a problem yes. However, it is human consumption that is more so the problem. Considering the US only makes up about 5% of the world's population and consumes about 25% of its energy, i would say it's a safe bet that the US could support many more people if everybody just consumed a little less.

fyi CO2

g, how do you think something becomes a majority?
it might sound rather pathetic but every trend begins from zero, become part of the solution!


Well you'd like/hope to get the majority to join you, accept your arguments, etc. That would require the majority to be logical, reasonable, consider these issues, etc. At this point I see none of this. Are we logical/reasonable these days? Seems more of an exception than a rule. Is the majority spending some time and effort thinking about environment and global warming? Not.

Regarding "poor points of views", let's do some math.

I am going to build a simple little shed for tools and such. Don't want to run a wire from the house. Hey, it would be so much fun to put a solar panel on the roof and a deep cycle battery inside for a free green electricity. Cool :)

Based on some calculations for a moderate use (some light and occasional power tool use and battery chargers,....) I'd need about $500 worth of solar panel(s) (all Canadina $) plus $100+ for battery and another $100+ for power converters/charge controllers = total $800 green power system. Uh huh, the shed itself will cost me about that much, so this power system just about doubles the cost?!?! I am paying about $0.10/KWh from the grid, so for $800 I could get 8MWh from the grid!!!

In other words, I could spend $800 for a green power system that generates miniscule amount of electricity or use the charger I already have and old car batteries I already have and spend only $100+ for an inverter to get grid power in the shed, still without any wiring. Hmm tough choice ;)

Hence my point that both gov and private sector need to spend much more investment and engineering effort into lowering solar panel costs. The work is being done, but it is too slow.

Now let's be an optimist and say I spend the extra $800 to have this green power source. Nice :) Now I am moving some electricty uses from the grid to this system. Cool. Well the panel is still fairly small, no more than 100W and it has a small storage, single battery. Hence I am only moving few KWh from grid to this system per year. Few KWh savings per year is miniscule compared to daily usage of many MWhs per DAY!!!!!!

Now here is where things get really depressing. SINGLE hummer on a SINGLE patrol in Afganistan or Iraq will burn many KWhs! After all my efforts and expense of saving a few KWhs for a year, single patrol will cancel it. Not to mention bigger and heavier APCs, etc.

WTF???? All these wars we don't really need are consuming both huge amounts of money (that should be spent on solar panels) and huge amounts of extra energy (thus canceling my green energy efforts). I am sorry, but that is BS.

Hence my point that the majority chooses to drive trucks and SUVs as well as launch unecessary wars, all of which are contrubuting to the warming. My measly little 100W solar panel makes what difference?

Sorry to sound like that. I am fan of solar panels, hybrid cars, etc. Still, like it or not, we are a tiny minority :(


"Now here is where things get really depressing. SINGLE hummer on a SINGLE patrol in Afganistan or Iraq will burn many KWhs! After all my efforts and expense of saving a few KWhs for a year, single patrol will cancel it. Not to mention bigger and heavier APCs, etc."

Wrong... you're cancelling out the hummer, not the other way around.

Point is we're all going to have to curb our consumption to see any real changes.


g: can you send me the info on the solar system you were looking at? (Canadian $ OK ... I am Canadian) I'm thinking of buying an electric motorcycle and it would be nice If I could power it with PV. I figure I could replace 400$ a year worth of gas with this get up. Even if my grid only costs me .06 a kWh I'll pay the extra to be part of the solution. And I can use the battery to run my sump durring power failures. If I do it then statistically there must be others (nut bars) doing it too.

Paul Dietz

those are both very poor points of views to have. why even bother reading anything on this website if you think we're all doomed anyway?

The point about the irrelevance of individual action is not one of 'we're all doomed', but rather it emphasizes that the solution will have to involve collective action -- i.e., government regulation of some kind. This point can be used in response to denialists who ask 'well, why aren't *you* living in sackcloth and ashes, huh?'

Robert Schwartz

You hurt my feelings. I am going to cry.


It should not go understated: The single biggest change in CO2 emitions that can be made in the short run would be a morotorium on coal plants coupled with streamlining of nuclear.

Even with that said, I'm hard pressed to see how climate change represents a huge threat to humanity. Humans are the most adaptable mammal on the planet. It at worst represents a transitive threat to the global economy.


I'd rather cancel consumption from your commute to work or a trip to the beach with kids rather than a war activity. I'd feel better about spending a lot of money in that case. I didn't even bother with a jet fighter/bomber, how much those beasts consume and for what purpose?

That is exactly what I am saying.

I did a quick estimate using Canadian Tire prices (see their online catalogue). There are many other vendors in Ontario mostly selling bigger packages for houses ($10K+). BP (British Petroleum) sells all sorts of panels. CT is best for smaller purchases of few panels.

Depending on how windy your location is, you may want to consider a wind generator. You'll need a spare battery to charge while using the other one in MC.

Here is a quick estimate:
assume 3 KWh/day (you can adjust this based on your actual use, distance travelled, ...)
assume mostly summer, about 13 sunlight hours / day
assume 50% panel efficiency (clouds, losses in controller, battery charge efficiency, etc)

(source Canadian Tire - Alternative Energy)

You need:
3,000Wh / 13h = 231W
2 x 120W panel @ $1000 = 240W @ $2,000
30A, 12V charge controller $130

12V deep cycle battery = $250

Total: $2,380

If you want to further ensure full charge on very cloudy days add:

AirX 400W wind generator @ $800

Total: $3,180

(you'd have to do the math and ensure sufficient charge controller,...., this is a quick estimate)

So there you go Neil. You'd think Canada having signed up for Kyoto would have all sorts of discounts and incentives for people to purchase this gear?!?

P.S.: I am planning to install solar panels next time I have to replace roof shingles on my house. However, if there are no government subsidies and the panels end up costing as much as they to today, I'll have no choice but to abandon panels. As far as I know the only incentive in Ontario is selling green electricity to the grid at about 4x or 5x the price we pay for electricity from the grid. Which seems bizarre if I simply pull that same electricity back from the grid and pocket the big difference. I don't really understand the details of this scheme.

Rafael Seidl

Hydrogen Fan -

even severe and rapid climate change would not lead directly to the extinction of the human race. However, if we don't start drawing up contingency plans, including how to cope with significant northward migration, we could sow the seeds of future wars over land and other resources.

Remember that e.g. North Africa was a major grain producer in Roman times. Temperate climes have been migrating northward ever since the end of the last ice age and we're now accelerating this process. However, we've also become richer, more technologically advanced and we've expanded our politics beyond the level of the nation state.

Realistically, it's already to late to prevent climate change in the near term. However, by adopting policies and technologies designed to mitigate the long-term damage, we foster the greater intellectual and economic flexibility needed to adapt peacefully to the coming changes. Key to success is eliminating the free rider problem you point out, both within societies and beween nations. Kyoto was a clumsy step in this direction but the US argued it did not go far enough. Sadly, it has yet to propose a credible alternative.

Sean -

considering that many emerging economies are heavily leveraging Western expertise to enable their currently rapid growth, I'd argue the impact of our decisions relative to climate change mitigation is actually much greater than it might appear.

Sid Hoffman

g: My best guess why there's no incentives for solar in Canada is that the sun doesn't shine with near the intensity it does in the southwestern USA. According to one of the power companies in Arizona's website, www.srpnet.com, based on thier cost calculator a 1.5kw PV system would cost $10,500 installed, of which you get $4500 covered by SRP and $2500 covered by state and federal incentives. Since the tax breaks affect your tax exposure they estimate the $10,500 system would cost you only $3750 out of pocket.


You hurt my feelings. I am going to cry.



Well the economics are all over the map here. There are some remote areas and many remote cottages that are too far from the grid. For them, $20K, $30K even $40K investment is cheaper because bringing in power via new transmission lines is even more expensive. I saw such a house on a documentary some place in Ontario, using combination panels and wind generators, even a backup Honda gas generator (rarely used as a last resort). They had enough power most of the time.

Regarding sun, you'd be surprised. Aside from the lake effect areas, there are many very cold days (has to do with the jet stream) when there is not a cloud, full sun exposure. On other days there is a lot of wind, so solar panel/wind generator combo works well even in winter.

In fact, there are companies here that offer the full package, installation and all. The main obstacle is the huge coast. For anyone living near the grid the cost comparison is very much in favor of the grid.

Canada did/does have a large fund, few billions, for CO2 emission reduction. There were/are incentives for conversion of older funraces to newer more efficient, etc. The most visible effect is the wasted money on advertisments?!?!


I own 85 acres in far western Wyoming. It is a mile from the nearest electricity. The power company said it would be happy to connect me to the grid for $33K, provided I dig the ditch. (It's unbeliveably rocky here.)

I said no thanks and started looking for PV, etc. The sad thing that I finally realized is that I can't get a system installed that would give me what I want, and need, for less than that.

The only installer in Wyoming didn't even bother to respond to my inquiry.

Rafael Seidl

Lucas -

have you looked into sterling engines? I don't know how much power you need, but Whisper Gen in New Zealand and Solo in Germany have commercially available microCHP solutions. These operate cleanly, quietly and reliably. The waste heat is recycled for space heating.

Solo also has a solar-power stirling design and is developing one based on biomass fuel (wood pellets).




The Earth has been ever-changing since the beginning of time. Different species have risen and fallen. This situation is a natural warming trend that's only been sped up by man's neglect for the air and water and cannot be controlled. Granted it makes sense not to pollute, improve recycling and pushed for more energy efficiency, but life will go on in some from no matter what. The Earth has managed to swing back and forth from the drastic changes from ice ages to warm periods. It's a cycle, and once the human race is done killing itself the insects and microbes will take over as Earth's dominant species. Good day.


allen Z

___"Considering the evidence that aerosol effects on clouds cause a large negative forcing, we suggest that seeding of clouds by ships plying selected ocean regions deserves investigation. However, given that a large portion of human-made CO2 will remain in the air for many centuries, sensible policies must focus on devising energy strategies that greatly reduce CO2 emissions."
_Algae emits compounds into the ocean that aerosolize. Once in the air, they help form clouds and resultantly block intense direct sunlight. Perhaps dumping tons of ultra fine iron particles into the ocean will increase the rate of carbon sequestration, and increase algae enhanced cloud formation to boot. Hence, it might help decrease two climate forcings: CO2 reduction via sequestration of dead algae/zooplankton consumed algae droppings, and offshore sedimentation fields and albedo enhancing clouds.
___Solving problems/issues will be necessary. This will include timing algae blooms, so that they will drift on surface/subsurface currents, and into/onto a sedimentation fields as they die. Massive algae blooms may also affect climate patterns, due to decreased ocean heat, and thus weakened or change Monsoons. The issue of mining, refining, and dumping iron would be another obstacle.
___Sourcing the funds might include a carbon tax, or carbon securities/futures. The $20 billion per annum would be a business opportunity for mid-cap companies. At the least, it would buy us time to cut ourselves off fossil energy, and onto renewables. It would also allow the PRC and India to clean up their coal-fired plants, without exposure to the full effects of GHGs and all its effects without Global Dimming (1-2C average on top of current conditions, mostly densely populated areas, and near major emitters. More pronounced/adversely affected regions are likely). Additionally, it would also increase marine life, such as fish/krill and marine mammals that eat them.

algae produced aerosol compounds:
Algae Iron fertilization:


As I read down through all the posts here, I kept reading the words incentives, government subsidies, ect; ect; ect; I keep wondering if anyone here really knows the meaning of these words used in the context that they were used. For those who don't know, what they mean is, Government handouts ( tax money ) used for this purpose. Not very economical, for every dollar you pay in taxes your lucky if you get back 10 cents worth of value. So the big question is, how do we conserve when it costs so much to install the necessary equipment just to barely exist. Outside of changing the type of government we have, ( which really isn't necessary ) how can it be done. One way would be for people with plenty of monitary recorses could get together and form " Non Profit " companys to build the necessary parts to make it happen. This can only happen if these " Non Profits " are organized, in one manner only. That is no one in the company recieves more than U.S.$ 75,000 per year. Not going to happen you say; Your right! Why? "GREED" I'm just glad i'm 71 y.o. and don't have much time left to go.

as a salutation, I will say this; I have never in my life time seen so much GREED as I have seen in this country in the past 25 years. If you are wondering, I live in the U.S.A.


HydrogenFan wrote: In a practical sense what can individuals do to remedy the problem, can it be soleved at all? How long before conditions spiral into an irreversable cycle of perpetual warming? And most importantly how hot is too hot for the planet to survive?

1. Sure. It will take hard work, willpower, foresight, and might hurt a bit, but sure. Whether it will happen remains to be seen. What can an individual do?

Don't fall for the tragedy of the commons.

Do an energy audit. Cut 5%/month until all the fat is gone. Include things like unnecessary items shipped from half a world away. Favor local produce.

Go distributed energy if possible. Get a more efficient car when the old one goes, and use it less -- don't get sucked into Jevon's Paradox, either.

Get involved with local groups. Encourage less transit oriented housing and working arrangements, less auto-dependent transit. Get involved politically.

I'm sure there are lots of other things others can think of. It might not be enough, and you may be dismissed as a nutcase. Certainly if only a few people do this it won't be enough. But if nobody does this it definitely won't be enough.

2. Who knows? Do nothing and it will likely come sooner than later, though.

3. Life is incredibly resilient. Even the Permian extinction couldn't wipe it out, and we won't be able to, either. That guarantee doesn't apply to individual species of course, and Nature doesn't much care whether we're the dominant life form or whether it's jellyfish and cockroaches. Maybe, just maybe, we can kill ourselves, certainly we can make ourselves miserable; but we can't kill the planet.

Dezakin wrote: Even with that said, I'm hard pressed to see how climate change represents a huge threat to humanity. Humans are the most adaptable mammal on the planet. It at worst represents a transitive threat to the global economy.

They are no doubt professional pessimists, but the Pentagon expects famine, mass emigration, and war. (Actually it's hard to argue otherwise) Add to that the fact that this isn't likely to be a step-function change, with adaptation to a new condition. Warming is likely to continue for centuries, given the nature of the system, though if there is an economic crash, the increase in warming will at least be ameliorated.

Max Reid

Every year, something is happening in the weather area.

While 2005 was the warmest year with most hurricanes in the Atlantic. 2006 is year of maximum wildfires in USA.

More than 9 million acres were burned.


Gentleman there are no assurances that we can even do anything about the course this planet has taken. I'm certain that kyoto is to little to late even if everyone got on board. Even if we can whatever we do is going to need to be drastic. If every lightbulb on the planet suddenly (magically) had a renewable nonpolluting source it may not be enough and still 40 years from now there will still be 50% more of us that will require the consumption of something. If we're going to spend tons of cash we need to be certain what we are doing and not just hope that what we are doing is going to be "good enough". I don't like to lose, but in this case there are way to many numbers working against us. I think we read these boards because we are concerned and not just feeling good trying to be green. There is to much at stake here. Just because i don't have kids doesn't mean i don't care about what happens to yours. Every person on this planet would have to reduce their consumption by 50% (including the poor) just to breakeven over the next 40 years (if the population statistics are accurate). That's huge. Call it doom and gloom if you want to. Even ignore it if it isn't acceptable to you. It's not going to make the numbers any less true. I don't know about the rest of you but i read environmental stuff in hope of finding something that will change (even a little bit) the outcome. Things aren't looking good for the home team.

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