From April 2015 to May 2016 each month has been a new record for global average temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is an unprecedented series of broken global temperature records. And scientists are warning now that we are in unprecedented territory facing the start of a climate emergency.
May 2016 was 0.87°C above the 20th century average according to NOAA. Each month from December to April was at least 1°C or more over the 20th Century average.
According to Climate Central, The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C, essentially equaling the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators in Paris last December.
Because of slightly different methodologies in calculating global average temperatures, NASA put May at 0.93°C warmer than the 1951-1980 average.
One of the reasons for this is that NASA takes account of temperatures at the poles where temperature data is collected by very few monitoring stations, while NOAA relies only on historical station data and makes no adjustment to account for sparse records at the poles.
Here is how Climate Central described the year this far: 2016 Is Blowing Away Global Heat Records
For the year-to-date, temperatures are 1.9°F (1.08°C) above the 20th century average, according to NOAA, putting it 0.43°F (0.24°C) above where 2015 was at this point. A Climate Central analysis that averages NOAA and NASA temperature data and compares them to a 1881-1910 baseline (closer to pre-industrial temperatures) found that the year-to-date is 2.5°F (1.39°C) above that average, edging closer to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures.
So far, it is likely that 2016 will top 2015 as the warmest year on record, but that depends in part on how the rest of the year plays out. If a La Nina forms by fall, as expected, that could depress global temperatures slightly.
In a mark of how hot the last few years (which saw three consecutive record hot years) have been, NOAA compared the top 10 warmest months globally as of November 2013 to the current list. As of last month, all but one of the 10 warmest months on recorded occurred in 2016 and 2015. The lone exception was January 2007, which was tied for tenth place. Back in November 2003, it was the warmest month on record.
Here is the NASA temperature anomaly map for the last year May 2015 to May 2016 with a baseline average temperature from 1880-1910. The temperature anomaly was 1.14C above the baseline average. Most of Australia is above one degree C temperature anomaly, and much of northern Australia is already above two degrees.
Climate Records broken in 2016
Adam Vaughn in the Guardian reports that Seven climate records set so far in 2016. These include:
- Arctic sea ice record melting: at a rate that by September could see it beat the record low set in 2012.
- Every month this year has been the hottest on record globally for that month.
- India recorded its hottest day ever on 19 May. The mercury in Phalodi, in the desert state of Rajasthan, rose to 51C, as a nationwide drought affected more than 300 million people
- Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, has experienced record-breaking heat. Spring was the warmest on record in the state, with an average temperature of 0C
- The increase in atmospheric CO2 for 2016 is expected to be 3.1 parts per million, up from an annual average of 2.1
- Australia just had its hottest autumn on record. Average temperatures were 1.86C above the average, beating the previous record of 1.64C above average, set in 2005.
- The Great Barrier Reef experienced its worst ever coral bleaching event due to record warm waters in the Coral and Tasmin Sea. 93 per cent of the reef was bleached, and that 35% of the corals are now dead or dying on 84 reefs that were surveyed along the northern and central sections of the Great Barrier Reef.
Scientists warn: there is a climate emergency
Damian Carrington in The Guardian highlights that Shattered records show climate change is an emergency today, scientists warn.
In this article both Michael Mann from Penn State University and Stefan Rahmstorf from the Postdam institute for Climate Impact Research warn about the temperature rise we have just experienced.
“The impacts of human-caused climate change are no longer subtle – they are playing out, in real time, before us,” says Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US. “They serve as a constant reminder now of how critical it is that we engage in the actions necessary to avert ever-more dangerous and potentially irreversible warming of the planet.”
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, says: “These [records] are very worrying signs and I think it shows we are on a crash course with the Paris targets unless we change course very, very fast. I hope people realise that global warming is not something down the road, but it is here now and it affecting us now.”
“What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate,” says Rahmstorf. “It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”
“There is something more going on than the usual global warming trend and El Niño, because in the past El Niño has led to single years breaking records, but it has not caused several years in a row to break records,” says Rahmstorf. “There is some unexplained part to this and it is concerning, because we don’t understand it and it is hotter than expected,” he says. “I hope the data coming in the next six months or so will bring us some important clues.”
The rise in temperatures will advance the early onset of heatwaves as well as increasing their length, frequency and intensity. This is the clearest impact of global warming says Rahmstorf: “Our analysis of monthly heat records around the globe shows they now occur five times as often. It is those monthly heat records that are representative of heatwaves that last for weeks on end and they are ones that take the highest death toll.” reports the Guardian.
Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment told the Guardian: “The impacts we’re beginning to see are just the start and we know we are going to be facing a worsening situation for at least the next couple of decades even if we do cut emissions,” Ward says. “What’s worrying [about the record-breaking 2016] is that we are in unprecedented territory and we don’t really know what the consequences will be,” he says. “There are likely to be plenty of surprises, some of which will be nasty.”
There is now a 99 percent chance that 2016 is going to best 2015 as the warmest year on record, According to NASA GISS head Gavin Schmidt in a tweet on 15th May:
With Apr update, 2016 still > 99% likely to be a new record (assuming historical ytd/ann patterns valid). pic.twitter.com/GTN9sPL2D7— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) May 14, 2016
- Climate Central 17 June 2016 - 2016 Is Blowing Away Global Heat Records
- Climate Central 16 June 2016 - With May Record, Global Temps in ‘New Neighborhood’
- Climate Central 13 June 2016 - May Marks One More Record Hot Month for the World
- Climate Central 20 April 2016 - Flirting with the 1.5°C Threshold