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February obliterated global heat records, NASA confirms

March 13, 2016

This piece is reprinted in its entirety from an article by Andrew Freedman, that appeared in mashable.com on March 12, 2016.

Feburary 2016 World Map of HeatingMap of temperature anomalies from average during February 2016.
Image: NASA

February was Earth’s most unusually warm month on record, blowing away the record that had been set just one month prior.

The new findings, contained in preliminary data released Saturday by NASA and backed up by information from other research groups, show that the combination of a record strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean and human-caused global warming drove global temperatures to levels never before seen since instrument records began in 1880.

Monthly Mean Global Surface TemperatureMonthly global average surface temperatures, with Feb. 2016 indicated.Image: NASA GISS/Mashable

The NASA data, which is subject to adjustment as scientists refine their analysis, shows that February had a global average surface temperature of 1.35 degrees Celsius above the 1951 to 1980 average, or 2.43 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

SEE ALSO: Climate deniers lose key talking point as satellites show temperatures hit all-time highs

The 1.35-degree Celsius temperature anomaly in February beat the anomaly recorded in January, which itself was a record high departure from average for any month. According to NASA, the global average surface temperature during January was 1.14 degrees Celsius above average, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the 1951 to 1980 average.

This means that temperatures in February 2016 had the largest departure from average of any month in NASA’s records since 1880.

To put it more plainly, February stands out for its unusual heat more than any other month in modern climate record.

The previous warmest February, according to NASA, was in 1998, which was also a year with an extremely strong El Niño.

However, in an important indication of how far human-caused global warming has shifted the baseline state of the planet’s climate, February 2016 came out 0.846 degrees Celsius, or 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than February 1998, despite the similar intensity of the El Niño events in both years.

In fact, studies indicate that with the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere in all of human history, global average temperatures may now be higher than any time since at least 4,000 years ago.

In an indication of how striking February’s data is, consider the reaction of Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), who helps conduct these analyses:

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. IAN WYLIE permalink
    March 16, 2016 1:39 PM

    Hardly surprising The Earth has been warming for thousands of years, if unevenly, and will do so for many thousands more, until the cycle reverses again and cooling will begin
    Ian Wylie
    CEO Kemble Knowledge

  2. Tom Bjorklund permalink
    March 28, 2016 4:58 PM

    Recent news reports have hailed this year as likely to be the warmest year on record since 1880. The problem with this claim is that early temperature data are unreliable, especially when changes in temperature are measured in hundredths of degrees. These are very small numbers almost certainly overestimate the precision of the measurement. The most reliable temperature data are satellite data, which have only been available since 1979, and are relative to the mean temperature from 1981-2010. The earlier temperature anomalies are usually relative to the mean temperature from 1951 to 1980 and not directly comparable to anomalies from satellite data only. These important facts are always ignored in news reports as they are in this blog.
    The facts are that the warmest January temperature in the satellite records is .54 degrees C in 2016 and the warmest February temperature in the satellite records is 0.83 degrees C in 2016 relative to the 1981-2010 mean temperature. I do not understand the newsworthiness of these observations. The temperature anomaly in March,1998 was .74 degrees C, only 0.09 degrees less than the February, 2016 measurement, and in February, 2010 was .52 degrees C, only 0.02 degrees less than the January, 2016 measurement. These are very small numbers and very small differences, and who knows the sizes of the error bars of the estimates. So what is the big deal? The highest temperature in 1998 was at the peak of an El Nino warming period, and the high temperature anomalies in January and February this year are also near the peak of an El Nino warming period. These peaks have little effect on the overall temperature trend from 1979 to the present. The temperature anomaly trend for the past 18 years has been relatively stable on average, and over the next several decades could well decline.

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