Global Surface Temperature in 2014

Average temperature in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Source:

Average temperature in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Source: NOAA

Why surface temperature matters

Of all the planets in our neighborhood, Earth has a surface temperature that is uniquely friendly to life. That friendliness is the result of a balancing act between incoming sunlight and outgoing thermal energy—the heat radiated back to space by every part of the Earth system, from land to oceans to clouds and, especially, by the gases in the atmosphere. Surface temperature is one of the most direct of several signals that indicate the status of Earth’s heat budget. Earth’s  long-term warming trend shows that the balance has changed: the atmosphere absorbs and radiates more heat (thermal infrared energy) than it used to.

Conditions in 2014

Globally averaged surface temperature for 2014 was 0.27° -0.29° Celsius (0.49°-0.52°F) above the 1981–2010 average. Depending on the small differences among different data sets, 2014 was either the warmest or tied-for-warmest year since records began in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Overall, the globally averaged annual temperature over land was 0.37-0.44° Celsius (0.70° -0.79° F) above the 1981-2010 average, ranking it as the warmest year in some datasets and fourth-warmest in others. Land surfaces over Eurasia and western North America were particularly warm in 2014, and the frequency of warm temperature extremes was above average for all regions apart from North America.

The only land areas with widespread temperatures below the 1981-2010 average were the eastern half of the contiguous United States, central and southern Canada, and parts of central Asia. Eastern North America, including the eastern U.S., was relatively cool for the majority of 2014, with some sharp cold air outbreaks early in the year.

In 2014, the globally averaged sea surface temperature was 0.21-0.27°C (0.34°-0.49°F) above the 1981-2010 average–the highest on record according to all datasets. Even though conditions across the tropical Pacific Ocean were ENSO-neutral to marginal, sea surface temperatures averaged across the larger Pacific basin were much warmer than average in 2014. Every major ocean basin had at least one region with temperatures more than 1°C warmer than average during 2014.  Some areas across the Atlantic, South Pacific, and northwestern Pacific Oceans experienced below-average temperatures.


Plastic in the Ocean

The Five Great Oceanic Garbage Patches. Source:

The Concentration of Plastic in the Five Great Oceanic Garbage Patches. Source:

There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.

This trash tends to collect in the world’s five major ocean gyres, which are large systems of spiraling currents. Then, as the plastic degrades into fragments, it falls into deeper water, where currents carry it to remote parts of the globe. For wildlife in these areas, ingesting plastic can be unavoidable, and can have devastating health effects.

Map: National Geographic Staff, Jamie Hawk
Source: Andres Cozar, University of Cadiz, Spain

Land of the Berbers

Tamazɣa / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵖⴰ (The Maghreb) in Tamaziɣt / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ (Berber), by Jordan Engel

Tamazɣa / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵖⴰ (The Maghreb) in Tamaziɣt / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ (Berber), by Jordan Engel

Tamaziɣt / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ (Berber) is a family of closely related languages indigenous to North Africa. Tamaziɣt is sometimes written in the Berber Latin alphabet, the Arabic script, or the Tifinaɣ script. The latter, which is the script used in this map, has been used for over 2,000 years by the Berber people. Because the word “Berber” is considered derogatory (derived from Greek word for barbarian), the people instead call themselves Imaziɣen / ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⴻⵏ (singular – Amaziɣ), meaning “free people.” However, freedom has been a long struggle for the Imaziɣen. Under French colonial rule in North Africa, all languages other than French were banned in public life. After independence, all the Maghreb countries to varying degrees pursued a policy of Arabization, aimed partly at displacing French as the dominant language. Under this policy the use of Tamaziɣt was suppressed or even banned. In Libya, the regime of Gaddafi consistently banned the Tifinaɣ script from being used in public contexts such as store displays. Under the rule of King Hassan II in Morocco, thousands of Imaziɣen were imprisoned, tortured, or killed by state violence.There is now a large political-cultural movement in the Maghreb known as Timmuzɣa (Berberism) which, among other goals, seeks to unite Imaziɣen across colonial borders. One group, the Tuareg people, rebelled against the government of Mali in 2012 to form a de facto independent state called Azawad / ⴰⵣⴰⵡⴰⴷ. In the 1970s, activists began to refer to the Maghreb – the region of North Africa including Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya – as Tamazɣa / ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵖⴰ (“Land of the Berbers”).

This map is oriented South-up in a homage to Muhammad al-Idrisi, an 11th century Amaziɣ cartographer from ⵙⴰⴱⵜⴰ (Cueta – now a Spanish exclave in North Africa). His famously accurate map of the known world, the Nuzhat al-mushtāq fi’khtirāq al-āfāq, was also made in this orientation.

List of place names:
English – Tifinaɣ script / Berber Latin alphabet

Adrar, Algeria – ⴰⴷⵔⴰⵔ
Adrar des Ifoghas (Mali) – ⴰⴷⵔⴰⵔ ⵏ ⵉⴼⵓⵖⴰⵙ / Adrar n Ifoghas
Africa – ⵜⴰⴼⴻⵔⴽⴰ / Taferka
Agadir, Morocco – ⴰⴳⴰⴷⵉⵔ / Agadir
Algiers, Algeria – ⴷⵣⴰⵢⵜ
Annaba, Algeria – ⵄⴻⵏⵏⴰⴱⴰ – Ɛennaba
Atlas Mountains – ⵉⴷⵓⵔⴰⵔ ⵏ ⵡⴰⵟⵍⴰⵚ / Idurar n Waṭlaṣ
Béchar, Algeria – ⴱⴻⵛⵛⴰⵔ / Beccar
Biskra, Algeria – ⵜⵉⴱⴻⵙⴽⴻⵔⵜ / Tibeskert
Casablanca, Morocco – ⴰⵏⴼⴰ / Anfa
Constantine, Algeria – ⵇⵙⵏⵟⵉⵏⴰ / Qsenṭina
Europe – ⵓⵕⵓⵒ / Uṛup
Fez, Morocco – ⴼⴰⵙ / Fas
Gao, Mali – ⴳⴰⵡ

Ghardaïa, Algeria –  ⵜⴰⵖⵔⴷⴰⵢⵜ / Taɣerdayt
Hoggar Mountains (Algeria) – ⵉⴷⵓⵔⴰⵔ ⵏ ⴰⵀⴰⴳⴳⴰⵔ / Idurar n Ahaggar
Kidal, Mali – ⴾⴸⵍ / Kidal
Laayoune, Western Sahara – ⵍⵄⵢⵓⵏ / Leɛyun
Marrakesh, Morocco – ⵎⵕⵕⴰⴽⵛ / Mṛṛakc
Mediterranean Sea – ⵉⵍⴻⵍ ⴰⴳⵔⴰⴽⴰⵍ / Ilel Agrakal
Meknès, Morocco  – ⵎⴽⵏⴰⵙ
Nouakchott, Mauritania – ⵏⵡⴰⴽⵛⵓⵟ / Nawākšūṭ
Oran, Algeria – ⵡⴻⵀⵔⴰⵏ / Wehran
Oujda, Morocco – ⵡⴻⵊⴷⴰ / Wejda
Rabat, Morocco – ⴰⵕⴱⴰⵟ  / Aṛbaṭ
The Rif (Morocco) – ⴰⵔⵉⴼ / Arif
Safi, Morocco – ⴰⵙⴼⵉ / Āsfī
Sahara Desert – ⵜⵉⵏⴰⵔⵉⵓⴻⵏ / Tinariwen (To the Tuareg, the Sahara is not one desert but many, so they call it Tinariwen, which means “the deserts.”)
Siwa Oasis, Egypt – ⵙⵉⵡⴰ
Sousse, Tunisia – ⵙⵓⵙⴰ / Susa
Tamanrasset, Algeria – ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵏⵖⴰⵙⴻⵜ
Tangier, Morocco – ⵟⴰⵏⴶⴰ / Tanja
Timbuktu, Mali – ⵝⵓⵎⴱⵓⴽⵜⵓ
Tindouf, Algeria – ⵜⵉⵏⴷⵓⴼ / Tinduf
Toubkal (Morocco) – ⵜⵓⴱⵇⴰⵍ / Tubqal
Tripoli, Libya – ⵟⵔⴰⴱⵍⵙ / Ṭrables
Tunis, Tunisia – ⵜⵓⵏⵙ / Tunes

The Nine Homelands of Food Production

The Nine Homelands of Food Production by Jared Diamond

The Nine Homelands of Food Production by Jared Diamond

Ancient centers of origin of plant and animal domestication — the nine homelands of food production — are indicated by the orange-shaded areas on the map. The most agriculturally productive areas of the modern world, as judged by cereals and major staples, are indicated by the yellow-shaded areas. Note that there is almost no overlap between the areas highlighted, except that China appears on both distributions, and that the most productive areas of the central United States today approach areas of the eastern United States where domestication originated. The reason why the two distributions are so different is that agriculture arose in areas to which the wild ancestors of the most valuable domesticable crops and animals were native, but other areas proved much more productive when those valuable domesticates reached them.

Source: Evolution, Consequences and Future of Plant and Animal Domestication, by Jared Diamond

Biomass Density

Global Above- and Below-ground Living Biomass Carbon Density by Aaron Ruesch and Holly K. Gibbs, 2008

Global Above- and Below-ground Living Biomass Carbon Density by Aaron Ruesch and Holly K. Gibbs, 2008

Biomass, in ecology, is the mass of living biological organisms in a given area or ecosystem at a given time, measured in metric tons of organic carbon per hectare (t – C / ha). Excluding bacteria (which account for perhaps half or more of the planet’s biomass), the total live biomass on Earth is about 560 billion tons, concentrated largely in the Amazon Rainforest, the Congo Rainforest, and Maritime Southeast Asia. These areas are massive carbon sinks – capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.