The world can’t seem to catch a break. It’s not been long since it was announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record, and it looks likely that the mercury will continue to climb. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have just crunched the sums and found that the January just passed was the warmest globally since records began. Not only that, but it was the hottest month by the largest margin, beating the global average by 1.13˚C (2.03˚F), according to NASA.
This makes January the ninth addition to the string of hottest months on record that began back in May last year, and was 0.3˚C (0.48˚F) warmer than last year's. The massive ramp up in the warming of the planet has been attributed in part to a particularly strong El Niño that has persisted off the east coast of the Americas over the past few months. The weather system has been blamed for the drought that has hit Australia, the massive forest fires seen across Indonesia, as well as severe droughts and flooding that have left almost 100 million people facing food shortages in both South Africa and South America.
The temperature departures from average by latitude, clearly showing that the Arctic, at the highest latitude, is warming faster than other parts of the world. NASA
This current El Niño seems to have finally passed its peak according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), yet NOAA is yet to call it. This doesn’t mean that we’re on the home straight, however. The WMO warns that the world will still face enormous humanitarian difficulties for months to come, as due to the size the weather system reached, the impacts are still being felt in all corners of the globe. It is currently too early to confirm whether it has been the largest El Niño ever recorded, but the WMO does note that it is at least comparable to the current record holder of 1997-98.
This continuous warming of the planet is already having an impact on the environment. The Arctic is being particularly hard hit, with the sea ice shrinking to a new record low for January. According to the NOAA, the warming of the Arctic is “off the chart,” as they recorded temperatures at least 5.6˚C (9˚F) warmer than average over much of Alaska. The ice covered an area of 13.5 million square kilometers (5.3 million square miles) last month, which is around 1 million square kilometers (402,000 square miles) less than the last 30-year average for this time of year. That’s an area the size of both Texas and New Mexico, combined.
With carbon emissions not looking likely to be significantly cut any time soon, the climate is simply going to continue to warm, and with it the setting of new global temperature records is likely to become more and more of a common event.