Last month Earth’s temperature soared to a record high. This graph, which only goes up to January, shows how much higher the Earth’s surface temperature is than the 1951-1980 average. It’s updated each month by the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, and it’s called GISTEMP. Here is the next month’s graph, which includes February:
As you can see, we’re currently experiencing a huge spike in temperatures! GISTEMP had to change the temperature scale on its graph to handle the new higher temperatures.
GISTEMP relies heavily on meteorological stations. Upper atmosphere temperatures measured by satellites have shown less temperature increase, leading to some interesting controversies. But now, one of the main satellite temperature records, the University of Alabama at Huntsville satellite temperature dataset, is also reporting a big temperature spike.
“The record might have as much to do with an extraordinarily warm month in the Arctic as it does with warming caused by the El Niño,” said John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at UAH.
It’s also nice to look at a map of temperature anomalies—that is, the temperature in some region minus the average temperature in that region during that time of the year. Here is one from HADCrut4, a data set compiled by the Met Office Hadley Centre in England:
This is from January—that’s the most recent one I could find from them.
This article puts the news quite dramatically:
• Eric Holthaus, Our hemisphere’s temperature just reached a terrifying milestone, Slate, 1 March 2016.
Holthaus, a meteorologist who works for Slate, wrote:
There are dozens of global temperature datasets, and usually I (and my climate journalist colleagues) wait until the official ones are released about the middle of the following month to announce a record-warm month at the global level. But this month’s data is so extraordinary that there’s no need to wait: February obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month.
Using unofficial data and adjusting for different base-line temperatures, it appears that February 2016 was likely somewhere between 1.15 and 1.4 degrees warmer than the long-term average, and about 0.2 degrees above last month—good enough for the most above-average month ever measured. (Since the globe had already warmed by about +0.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels during the 1981-2010 base-line meteorologists commonly use, that amount has been added to the data released today.)
Keep in mind that it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1.0 degree Celsius, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4 degrees further in just the last five months. Even accounting for the margin of error associated with these preliminary datasets, that means it’s virtually certain that February handily beat the record set just last month for the most anomalously warm month ever recorded. That’s stunning.
Then on March 3rd he added this comment:
Since this post was originally published, the heat wave has continued. As of Thursday morning, it appears that average temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere have breached the 2 degrees Celsius above “normal” mark for the first time in recorded history, and likely the first time since human civilization began thousands of years ago. That mark has long been held (somewhat arbitrarily) as the point above which climate change may begin to become “dangerous” to humanity. It’s now arrived—though very briefly—much more quickly than anticipated. This is a milestone moment for our species. Climate change deserves our greatest possible attention.