For a third month in a row, temperature records have been smashed, and by an increasingly unnerving margin. This February turned out to not only be the hottest February on record, but also the warmest by an unprecedented amount, breaking the record set only last month by January. What has seemingly become a worrying trend of increasing temperature records has sparked warnings of a rapidly developing “climate emergency.”
Following preliminary results earlier this month, NASA has now released the official figures, which are in fact far worse than the earlier indications. They show that February 2016 was a shocking 1.35°C (2.43°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 global average for the month, which is used as a yard stick to compare current temperatures. This 1951-1980 average is in itself thought to be around 0.3°C (0.48°F) warmer than the global average of the pre-Industrial era before 1880, meaning that we’ve tipped past the 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming set as a limit in the Paris climate agreement last year.
— Stefan Rahmstorf (@rahmstorf) March 13, 2016
This comes just a month after January was found to break the same record at 1.14°C (2.3°F) above the 1951-1980 average, which at the time was seen as an unprecedented increase. To put that into perspective, February beat the January record by a full 0.21°C (0.38°F), an extraordinary ramp up in warming. Not only that, but it also beat the previous hottest February, which was set in 1998 during the peak of the strongest El Niño on record, although that could also be beaten when all the data comes in about the current one we’re experiencing.
The Northern Hemisphere is being warmed far quicker than the Southern Hemisphere, with the Arctic being smashed by rising temperatures. NASA
While the massive El Niño is thought to have played a role in the string of temperature records that have been set over the preceding months, experts think that the records would have been smashed regardless. El Niño is only thought to have contributed to a maximum of 0.2°C (0.32°F) of the warming, while even then the temperatures that we’re recording might only be scratching the surface. The vast majority of heat is absorbed and stored in the depths of the oceans, and yet we’re only recording the temperatures from the surface and atmosphere.
This rise in average temperatures is worrying enough, but the margin is considerably larger when looking at the Northern Hemisphere, which has seen temperatures increase by 2.76°C (4.16°F), and the Arctic, which is up a terrifying 5.36°C (8.58°F). All this is adding to a growing body of evidence that the planet is warming at such a rate and to such a degree that we are rapidly going to face a climate emergency. This will be one in which extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, and forest fires are no longer a rare event but a regular occurrence. Millions of people could face food shortages, displacement, and even death.