Humanity’s ongoing alteration of Earth’s atmosphere has now caused eleven straight months of record heat.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration announced April 19 that March continued the streak with an average worldwide temperature that was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the twentieth century average for the month.
The month cemented the place of 2016’s first quarter as the warmest three-month period, relative to the norm, in recorded history.
“The departures are what we would consider astronomical,” NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden told the Associated Press. “It’s on land. It’s in the oceans. It’s in the upper atmosphere. It’s in the lower atmosphere. The Arctic had record low sea ice.”
“Everything everywhere is a record this month, except Antarctica,” Blunden continued in her AP interview. “It’s insane.”
March 2016 exceeded the previous record departure from the March mean for the period 1880-2016 by 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit.
The heat was particularly evident over land, where air temperatures last month were 4.19 degrees Fahrenheit above the twentieth century mean.
The agency also said that the average temperature above both land and sea surfaces across the globe during the first three months of this year was 2.07 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the twentieth century average. That is another record, exceeding the previous record set last year by 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the United States record heat was experienced in nearly every part of the country.
Deke Arndt, the leader of the climate monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, wrote in an April 12 blog post that every one of the nation’s climate divisions – sections distinguished by long-term climate patterns – was “warmer than normal” last month.
“The nationwide warmth was the result of unusual, and in some cases, record warmth, generally moving west to east across the CONUS,” Arndt wrote.
The acronym CONUS refers to the continental United States.
Up in the Arctic, the seasonal ice cover continued to shrink in March.
The average amount of territory in the Arctic that was covered by ice during the month was 7.02 percent below the 1981-2010 average and was the second-smallest ice cover during March since record-keeping began in 1979.
Arctic sea ice reached its maximum extent on March 24. Covering 14.52 million square kilometers (5.61 million square miles), it was the smallest maximum on record and was 1.12 million square kilometers (431,000 square miles) below average.
“I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic,” Dr. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. and a professor of geography at the University of Colorado, said. “The heat was relentless.”
Serreze explained that, while the powerful El Nino that occurred this past winter may have helped drive down Arctic ice cover by causing circulation of warm air currents, the overall trend downward cannot be attributed to ENSO events.
“The system has always been variable,” he said. “It’s not like we’re going to set a new record each year. That’s not how the system works. If we recovered in the next year or two that would not be a surprise at all, but it would only be a temporary recovery.”
The average air temperature in the Arctic between Dec. 1 – Feb. 28 was 4-11 degrees Fahrenheit above average for that time period, according to an NSIDC press release.
Alaska set a worrisome weather record Thursday as the air temperature at a location in the northernmost state exceeded 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the month of March for the first time.
A report in the Alaska Dispatch News said that the temperature at Klawock Airport, which is on Prince of Wales Island in the southeast region of the huge state, hit 71 degrees.
The article quoted a University of Alaska-Fairbanks researcher’s comments indicating that Alaska’s previous March record of 69 degrees occurred in 1915.
The National Weather Service confirmed that today’s temperature at Klawock Airport set a record.
Alaska has had an unusually warm winter, with multiple locations on the Last Frontier reporting record high temperatures throughout the season.
Earth’s north polar ice cap was smaller this past winter than at any time since measurements began to be obtained by satellite, breaking a record set only last year.
NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced March 28 that the maximum extent of ice during the season was reached on March 24 and that it covered 14.52 million square kilometers.
That beat last year’s mark of 14.54 million square kilometers and continued a stretch in which the 13 most ice-free winters in the Arctic have occurred in the past 13 years.
“It is likely that we’re going to keep seeing smaller wintertime maximums in the future because in addition to a warmer atmosphere, the ocean has also warmed up. That warmer ocean will not let the ice edge expand as far south as it used to,” Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said. “Although the maximum reach of the sea ice can vary a lot each year depending on winter weather conditions, we’re seeing a significant downward trend, and that’s ultimately related to the warming atmosphere and oceans.”
During the most recent winter season the Arctic experienced record high temperatures in December, January, and February. Air temperatures were as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than average at the edge of the ice pack, Meier said.
Warm air from the south was brought by winds to the Arctic, which also would have contributed to a lessened sea ice cover.
Less winter sea ice causes the air temperature over the Arctic ocean to increase because the unfrozen ocean waters are warmer than the overlaying air mass. As the ocean water evaporates, more water vapor accumulates in the atmosphere and that, in turn, causes clouds to form. Increased cloudiness causes an increase in surface warmth.
Satellite measurements of Arctic winter ice extent began in 1979.
Since that time the Arctic has lost nearly 1,606 square kilometers of winter sea ice. That is an area twice the size of Texas.
A recent report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever.
The release of the Arctic Report Card follows a summer in which the extent of ice melt in the Arctic was the second most extensive on record, trailing only 2007. The past five summers have seen the five lowest extents of summer ice on record.
“This report, by a team of 121 scientists from around the globe, concludes that the Arctic region continues to warm, with less sea ice and greater green vegetation,” Monica Medina, principal deputy undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, said.
Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein summarized the findings of the 121 scientists from around the world in a Dec. 2 article in the Anchorage Daily News:
– A NASA satellite found that 430 billion metric tons of ice melted in Greenland from 2010 to 2011, and the melting is accelerating. Since 2000, Greenland’s 39 widest glaciers shrunk by nearly 530 square miles, about the equivalent of 22 Manhattans.
– The past five years have had the five lowest summer sea ice levels on record. For two straight years, all three major passages through the Arctic have been open in the summer, which is unusual.
– Seven of 19 polar bear sub-populations are shrinking.
– This year’s temperature is roughly 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than what had been normal since 1980.
These changes, among others, led NOAA to state unequivocally in the report that
record-setting changes are occurring throughout the Arctic environmental system. Given the projection of continued global warming, it is very likely that major Arctic changes will continue in years to come, with increasing climatic, biological and social impacts.
Other indications of a warming Arctic include an increase in the near-surface average air temperature over the Arctic Ocean by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) in 2011 from the 1981-2010 base period, an increased rate of melting of Greenland’s western ice sheet, and an increase in tundra vegetation.
The effect of global warming on Greenland has been particularly noticeable, according to the report, as measurements obtained via satellite indicate that the whole Greenland ice sheet during 2010-2011 “was the largest annual loss in the satellite record of 2002-present.”
The loss of summer sea ice means that Arctic sea waters are both warmer and less saline.
In the Bering Sea, acidification is resulting in a seasonal decline in the formation of calcium carbonate, which is the most significant component of the shells of marine organisms.
Reduction in sea ice has allowed the Northwest Passage, as well as the Northern Sea Route, to remain navigable into September.
Farther south, the warming of the Arctic is resulting in a changed wind pattern that brings more severe winter storms to eastern Canada and the eastern United States and northern Europe.
As more and more Arctic ice melts during the summer, the planet’s albedo, or ability to reflect the Sun’s heat back to space, is decreased.
As described by journalist Richard Black in a May 2007 BBC News article, the lowered albedo could have significant long-term consequences for the planet:
The Arctic is intimately tied to the global climate system, and disruptions here have the potential to create worldwide changes – albeit over long timescales.