November 2015 is second-warmest in known history, NASA says, as this year stays on track for record warmth
November 2016 was the second-warmest November in recorded history, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced last week, with an average global temperature that was less than one-tenth of a degree Celsius lower than the record-setter of 2015.
Last month was also 0.95 degrees Celsius (1.71 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the average November during the years between 1951-1980 and kept Earth on the path to the warmest year the planet has experienced in the 136 years in which consistent weather records have been maintained.
November 2015 was 1.02 degrees Celsius warmer than the mean for the month during that 29-year period.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that, according to its calculations, November 2016 was the fifth-warmest in recorded history. NOAA said that last month’s average global temperature was 0.72 degrees Celsius (1.31 degrees Fahrenheit) above the norm for the month.
NOAA’s assessment of the month’s place in climate history is based on 122 years of records.
As the year approaches its end, there is little doubt that it will be the warmest known in either 122 or 136 years. NOAA’s statement explained that this year’s average temperature to date is 0.94 degrees Celsius (1.69 degrees Fahrenheit) above the mean for the past 122 years, while NASA’s methods indicate that the year-to-date mean temperature is 1.02 degrees Celsius (1.84 degrees Fahrenheit) above that for the period 1951-1980.
Earth’s Arctic region has been the part of the planet where warmth has been most pronounced this year.
NOAA’s 2016 Artic Report Card, which the agency released earlier this month, indicated that the extent of summer sea ice in the region this year was tied with 2007 for the second-lowest since 1979 and that average surface air temperatures there in the year that ended on Sept. 30 were the highest since at least 1900.
The mean air temperature in the Arctic has warmed by 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1900, a pace that is twice as fast as that experienced by the rest of Earth.
The continental United States experienced warmer temperatures than normal for the first 11 months of this year from coast-to-coast and from northern border to southern border. This graphic, prepared by the National Centers for Environmental Information, shows that no region in the mainland U.S. experienced an average temperature that is lower than the mean of the past 122 years:
A new map released by the National Drought Mitigation Center presents a shocking image of the country: the area of the south now impacted by drought is larger than the portion of California that is under drought conditions.
Historically anomalous wildfires are currently burning in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, driven by the dry conditions. The inferno has been driven by high winds, some blowing at velocities in the range of 80-90 miles per hour, and has been burning for four days. The town of Gatlinburg has been significantly damaged by the fires.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is closed because multiple fires are burning there.
Altogether, wildfires are burning across at least 95,000 acres in seven southeastern states. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there are 15 active conflagrations.
NDMC’s weekly report, released Nov. 23, indicates that only Florida and the coastal southeast are experiencing lower-than-average temperatures. A report by the Southeast Regional Climate Center released earlier in November said that precipitation in many parts of the region is running at 30-70 percent of normal. Describing current conditions in the interior southeast, NDMC said that dryness is ubiquitious:
“[H]undreds (at least 212) new fires have started in the Southeast, with 30 of them classified as large wildfires (100 acres or more), and burn bans were widespread across the region. Streams were at record and near-record low levels. Severe agricultural impacts (stock ponds drying up, winter feed being used to keep cattle alive since fall started) were widespread across the South and Southeast.”
The amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic fell this year to the second-lowest ever recorded by satellite.
NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. announced Thursday that the Arctic has reached its summer season low extent.
The 4.14 million square kilometers of ice measured on Sept. 10 is statistically tied with the minimum ice extent during the summer of 2007 for second place on the historic minimum list. This year’s minimum ice cover is more than two million square kilometers below the 1981-2010 mean.
Arctic Summer Minimum Sea Ice Extent Record, 2007-2016
|YEAR||EXTENT (millions of km2)||DATE MEASURED|
|1979-2000 mean||6.70||Sept. 13|
|1981-2010 mean||6.22||Sept. 15|
A statement released by NSIDC starkly described the conditions in the Arctic this summer:
“This year’s minimum extent is 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) above the record low set in 2012 and is well below the two standard deviation range for the 37-year satellite record.”
Cloudy skies and atmospheric pressure conditions slowed ice melt in June and July, which may have prevented this season from becoming the most ice-free summer ever observed from space.
“June and July are usually key months for melt because that’s when you have 24 hours a day of sunlight – and this year we lost melt momentum during those two months,” Walt Meier, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement.
The pace of melting accelerated in August when two cyclones crossed the Arctic Ocean.
Meier explained that these may have especially impacted the speed with which ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas melted.
The three-and-one-half decade long satellite record shows a marked decline in the mean extent of Arctic sea ice during each month of the year.
In fact, a paper published on Sept. 15 in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment concluded that no record for maximum Arctic sea ice extent has been set since 1986, while during the 37 years of satellite monitoring there have been 75 new minimum ice extent records set.
“The record makes it clear that the ice is not rebounding to where it used to be, even in the midst of winter,” Claire Parkinson, the lead author of that study and a senior climate scientist at GSFC, said.
Arctic sea ice ordinarily reaches its maximum reach for the year in March, late in the winter. The sun is not visible in the region during the winter and does not contribute much to warming of land and sea surfaces during that season.
NSIDC’s statement cautioned that the estimate released Thursday could be revised if late-summer winds or other factors causing ice melt impact the sea ice cover during the remaining days of summer.
The monitoring record dates to 1978.
Earth’s poles are the two regions of the planet that are most sensitive to warming of the atmosphere. As sea ice melts, more solar energy is absorbed by the Arctic Ocean. The deep and dark waters absorb about 90 percent of the sun’s energy that reaches them.
By contrast, expansion of sea ice during the colder autumn and winter months causes about 80 percent of the solar energy that hits the frozen surface of the region’s marine environment to be reflected to space.
August 2016 was the warmest month in recorded history, tying July 2016 for that distinction.
NASA said Monday that the mean worldwide temperature during August was 0.16 degrees Celsius hotter than the previous record-setting August and 0.98 degrees Celsius hotter than the average August between 1951-1980.
According to analysis completed by the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, August 2016 was the eleventh month in a row to reach a new high for that month’s average worldwide temperature.
The records kept falling as July 2016 set new benchmarks for heat.
NASA said Aug. 16 that last month was not only the hottest July in recorded history, but also the hottest month known since temperature record-keeping began in 1880.
“It wasn’t by the widest of margins, but July 2016 was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880,” Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record.”
This July’s mean temperature was 0.1 degrees warmer than the previous July record holders that occurred in 2015, 2011, and 2009, according to NASA’s study.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration confirmed July’s status as the heat pacesetter for all months on Aug. 17.
NOAA said that July 2016 was 1.57 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average 20th century July and 0.11 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous record-holding month of July 2015.
That continued a decades-long trend for the month of the year that is the peak of summer in the northern hemisphere.
“July 2016 marks the 40th consecutive July with temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average,” NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information said in a summary of the July temperature data. “July 1976 was the last time July global land and ocean temperatures were below average.”
The trend is not limited to every year’s July.
A new record for the warmest month of its kind has been set in each of the past ten months, according to NASA, dating back to October 2015.
NOAA pegged the hot streak at 15 record-setting months in a row.
The disparity is the result of differing methodologies used by the two agencies.
For the year of 2016 through the end of July, NOAA found that mean worldwide temperatures were 1.85 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.
The next-hottest January-July period came in 2014, when the average was 0.34 degrees F below this year’s measurement.
Both agencies use meteorological stations around the world to obtain air temperature data and ship- and buoy-based instruments to measure sea surface temperature. Antarctic research stations are also used to gather the data that underlies their monthly global temperature analysis reports.
A United Nations agency has predicted that the planet’s recent streak of record-setting hot years will reach a new threshold this year.
The World Meteorological Organization also noted in the July 21 statement that the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has reached “new highs.”
The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds 400 parts per million, a concentration not known on Earth since the Pliocene epoch, which ended about 1.8 million years ago.
In June the average concentration reached 407 parts per million, which was 4 ppm greater than in June 2015.
A WMO official pointed to the trend as a reason to emphasize public policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“This underlines more starkly than ever the need to approve and implement the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to speed up the shift to low carbon economies and renewable energy,” Petteri Taalas, the agency’s secretary-general, said.
The WMO statement highlighted a streak of record-setting hot months in its prediction.
NOAA also said that June was the 14th consecutive month to set a heat record.
“Another month, another record,” Taalas said. “And another. And another. Decades-long trends of climate change are reaching new climaxes, fueled by the strong 2015/2016 El Niño.”
WMO also pointed to reduced Arctic sea ice during summer months, increased precipitation in some regions, and widespread bleaching of coral reefs as indicators of the climate trend that is likely to put 2016 in the record books.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above our planet’s South Pole reached the worrisome threshold of 400 parts per million.
At least four million years have past since the last time carbon dioxide was so plentiful in the air above the South Pole, according to a statement announcing the milestone released Wednesday by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
No region of Earth remains below the 400 ppm threshold.
“The far southern hemisphere was the last place on earth where CO2 had not yet reached this mark,” Pieter Tans, the lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said. “Global CO2 levels will not return to values below 400 ppm in our lifetimes, and almost certainly for much longer.”
The South Pole is slower to demonstrate increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations driven by human combustion of fossil fuels because that region is so remote from the populated, and economically developed, areas of Earth.
Another federal government entity, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., recently warned that the South Pole would soon cross the 400 ppm threshold.
“Throughout humanity, we have lived in an era with CO2 levels below 400 ppm,” Ralph Keeling, director of the CO2 Program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said in an NCAR statement released May 12 . “With these data, we see that era drawing to a close, as the curtain of higher CO2 spreads into the Southern hemisphere from the north. There is no sharp climate threshold at 400 ppm, but this milestone is symbolically and psychologically important.”
NOAA data obtained at the South Pole indicates that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide there was about 336 ppm in 1980 and has generally been rising since that time.