This story has been updated.
On Friday, NASA released the latest temperature data for the globe, showing that March of 2016 was the hottest March on record since reliable measurements began in 1880. The month was 1.28 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than the average temperature in March from 1951 through 1980, with particularly scorching temperatures in the Arctic (as has been the case throughout this year so far).
This follows on temperatures for January and February that, NASA data show, were also the warmest for their respective months in the agency’s dataset. The February departure even prompted the following Tweet from Gavin Schmidt, who directs the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies:
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 12, 2016
If you dip back into last year, meanwhile, you find still more monthly temperature records – but you’ll also note that the temperature departures in 2016 have, so far, exceeded even those in 2015, the official warmest year on record. This extreme heat around the world, which scientists believe reflect both a now-weakening El Nino event and also the background influence of climate change, has traveled alongside striking impacts. Coral reefs are bleaching and in some cases dying, Greenland has shown major melting earlier in the year than at any time on record, and Arctic sea ice has set several records so far this year for low winter extent. Stefan Rahmstorf, a researcher with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has already shown just how much change these data represent since the year 1880:
The analysis suggests that, if temperatures indeed persist at these high levels, then the globe might be nearing a 1.5 degree Celsius increase over pre-industrial temperatures, which is one of the thresholds that the international community has recognized as important to avoid.
And as if that’s not enough, NASA’s Schmidt just predicted, based on the first three months of this year alone, that 2016 as a whole will set another all time temperature record, outdistancing both 2014 and 2015:
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) April 15, 2016
And it’s not just NASA data: The Japan Meteorological Agency recently also found that March 2016 was the hottest March in its temperature dataset, which goes back to 1891.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also keeps a dataset constructed in a somewhat different way from NASA’s, has not yet reported on March’s global temperatures — its assessment is expected next week.
And then, there are the satellites – the temperature datasets relied upon most by those who tend to question climate change. These, too, have been showing quite hot temperatures lately.
According to the University of Alabama-Huntsville team, March of 2016 saw the third largest warm anomaly, or departure from average, of any month in their satellite dataset, which goes back to late 1978. The month was 0.73 degrees Celsius, or 1.31 degrees Fahrenheit, above average, the group reported, for a region of the atmosphere known as the “lower troposphere” (from the Earth’s surface up to about 6 miles into the atmosphere). That made it the warmest March on record, and the third most anomalously hot month other than February of this year and April of 1998 (which fell during another strong El Nino event).
We still haven’t sorted out all the consequences of the burst of major heat that the planet is now seeing, and with El Nino fading, it isn’t expected to continue at this high of a pitch. Still, it’s startling – bringing into focus, perhaps as never before, what a warming planet really looks like.
Read more at Energy & Environment: