May continued a streak of record setting hot months as average temperatures were nearly a whole degree Celsius above the previously hottest May.
NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said Tuesday that the mean global temperature during the year’s fifth month was 0.93 degrees Celsius, or 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit, than the average for May.
That made May 2016 the eighth consecutive month, according to NASA records, to break the record for warmth.
The previous record-holding May occurred in 2014.
Japan’s meteorological agency reached a slightly different conclusion, concluding that May 2016 was the second-warmest May on record.
Another U.S. federal agency, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, has yet to release its measurement of average May temperatures. NOAA uses the same data as NASA but analyzes measured temperatures differently.
NASA’s method depends on a dataset called the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. GISTEMP includes records from 6,300 meteorological stations scattered around the planet, ship-based and satellite observations of sea surface temperatures, and research stations in Antarctica. The GISTEMP data goes back to 1880.
Although May was another record-setting month, in terms of heat, it was not as anomalous as the seven prior months. Between October 2015 and April 2016 the monthly average temperature exceeded the previous record-holding month by at least one degree Celsius.
The explanation for the lessened disparity in heat between May 2016 and previous Mays in the temperature record might be related to the approaching end of a powerful El Nino event.
Nevertheless, at least according to one climate scientist, May’s record-setting mean temperature means that the rolling 12-month average has now exceeded one degree Celsius above the norm for the period 1951-1980.
NASA’s Image of the Day for April 5, 2016 shows the waters of the north Atlantic Ocean:
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.
Worldwide emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide increased by an unprecedented amount last year, according to the federal agency that monitors Earth’s climate.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 reached 402.59 parts per million in February 2016. That was a jump of 3.05 parts per million, the largest in a 56 year-long history of record-keeping.
Confirmation of the data was provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. However, researchers with that institution’s Scripps CO2 Group said that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reached 404.16 parts per million last month.
The annual increase was greater than two parts per million for the fourth straight year.
“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” Pieter Tans, a scientist at NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Reference Network, said. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”
It has been about more than ten thousand years since Earth last experienced such a rapid increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere rose by 80 parts per million.
It is now rising at a pace 200 times faster than that, Tans said.
NOAA said in a statement that the current El Niño event is contributing to the CO2 increase, but that fossil fuel combustion remains the overwhelming driver of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.
Earth experienced its first total solar eclipse since March 20, 2015 on Tuesday, with Indonesia being the locale on the planet where the spectacle could be seen.
The eclipse began at 8:38 pm EST and lasted for four minutes. It was visible to people in about half of Indonesia’s provinces. A report in the New York Times said that the town of Ternate, located in the Maluku Islands, was the “prime viewing location.”
A partial solar eclipse could be observed elsewhere in the south Pacific region, including in Hawaii.
Solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes between Earth and its star, temporarily blocking some or most of the sun’s light from reaching Earth. The event happens only about once per year because the plane of Moon’s orbit does not exactly match Earth’s orbit around the sun.
The Moon seems to block the sun because, while the sun is about 400 times larger than the Moon, it is also about 400 times farther away.
This image shows Tuesday’s eclipse in progress from South Tangerang, Indonesia:
The March 2015 eclipse was visible in areas in the region of the North Atlantic Ocean, including the Faroe Islands and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.
Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano began to erupt last Friday, Feb. 26, sending ash and smoke into the atmosphere in a series of explosions. This BBC video shows some of the action:
Tungurahua is a stratovolcano – a stratified, conical volcano that is both aesthetically pleasing and very dangerous. Stratovolcanoes, also called composite volcanoes, tend to be concentrated in areas where a plate of Earth’s crust subducts below another.
Tungurahua is part of a chain of volcanoes that populates the Andes mountains. The Andean Volcanic Belt is a consequence of the subduction of the Nazca and Antarctic plates below the South American plate.
The mountain, whose name may mean “throat of fire,” is one of 28 active volcanoes in Ecuador.
All of that South American country’s volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire. That belt of volcanoes largely encircles the Pacific Ocean and includes 452 volcanoes, about 75 percent of the world’s total.
The mountain has a peak more than 16,000 feet above sea level.
Tungurahua has now erupted three times since 2010. Those eruptions are part of a cycle that began in 1999. Prior episodes of eruptive activity occurred in 1773, 1886, and 1916-1918.
More than 20,000 people live within ten kilometers of Tungurahua. Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, is about 140 kilometers north of the volcano. Tungurahua is located within Sangay National Park.
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung erupted twice last Friday, Feb. 26. That volcano sent ash to a reported 14,000 feet in the atmosphere. This BBC video shows footage:
Mount Sinabung is also a stratovolcano and is located on the island of North Sumatra. Before eruptions in 2010, 2013, and 2014, the volcano was last active in the 1600s. There are four craters on the mountain. Mount Sinabung’s peak sits at an elevation of about 8,069 feet.
More than 13,000 people live within 10 kilometers of Sinabung, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program website.
On March 27 NASA released a video containing time-lapse photography of this winter’s storm events on the American east coast.
The imagery was obtained by the agency’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites between January 1 and March 24.
For more information about how the video was created, visit this NASA web page.