Despite being just over half way through the year, our planet is already on track to have its hottest year on record. Even though such a scenario has been predicted by a whole plethora of climate researchers, the event that's been unfolding month by month has still taken scientists by surprise, the director of the World Climate Research Program said.
Last week both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed that June 2016 was the warmest since records began in the 1880s. It is now 14 months in a row of record-breaking temperatures, which is in itself the longest streak since records started. Yet it is not just the fact that so many successive months have been the warmest, it is also that those in 2016 have been the hottest by the largest margin. It is this quite terrifying ramp up that has been so unsettling.
“What concerns me most is that we didn't anticipate these temperature jumps,” David Carlson, director of the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) climate research program, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We predicted moderate warmth for 2016, but nothing like the temperature rises we've seen. Massive temperature hikes, but also extreme events like floodings, have become the new normal.”
This comes just as the WMO launches an investigation to examine whether or not the sweltering 54°C (129.2°F) in Kuwait this week breaks the record for the highest air temperature ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere, possibly making it the second-highest ever recorded on the planet. Even then, the number one spot as recorded in 1913 in Death Valley, California, is disputed, meaning that 2016 could end up setting the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth.
With that in mind, the mercury in the Northern Hemisphere has equally been climbing steadily higher, with the Arctic warming twice as fast as anywhere else on the planet. “The ice melt rates recorded in the first half of 2016, for example – we don't usually see those until later in the year,” says Carlson. That, coupled with the “new highs” in atmospheric carbon dioxide – which is the very gas that traps the heat in the first place – and it is not looking like the world is going to cool down anytime soon.
It is no longer a question of “has the climate changed?” but “by how much?” says Carlson.