Last month was the warmest January since the federal government started tracking monthly temperatures 144 years ago, according to NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information. A statistical analysis further adds that 2020 is on track to rank among the five warmest years on record.
January 2020 saw the highest global land and ocean surface temperatures since records began in 1880. A 1.14°C (2.05°F) rise above the 20th-century average was recorded, surpassing the previous record held in 2016, which was just 0.02°C (0.04°F) above average. Last month was the 44th consecutive January and 421st consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average. Notably, the four warmest documented Januaries have all occurred since 2016.
In addition to an increase in temperature, NOAA adds that last month also saw the highest difference in average temperature, or what is known as the temperature departure. January 2020 had the highest ever recorded, even when compared to months when an El Niño was present in the Pacific Ocean. Only March 2016, February 2016, and December 2015 had greater temperature departures, according to a supplementary report.
Much of Russia and parts of Scandinavia and eastern Canada saw the most notable warmer-than-average land temperatures with an increase of 5°C (9°F) above average. On the other hand, Alaska and western Canada were around 4°C (7.2°F) below average.
When comparing sea ice at the poles, average sea ice in the Arctic was 5.3 percent below the 1981 to 2010 average, tying with 2014 as the eighth-lowest January in nearly half-a-century, reports the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Antarctica saw sea ice coverage decrease by almost 10 percent – the 10th smallest January sea ice extent on record. Just last week, Antarctica’s main continental landmass reached 18.3°C (64.9°F) that, if verified, will be the hottest temperature ever recorded on mainland Antarctica.
What do these increases mean for the future? Rising temperatures are linked to more intense and frequent weather extremes and storm systems, though there is “no single 1.5°C warmer world” and the impacts of a continuously warming planet will be felt differently around the planet, notes NASA. A special report about global warming conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that human activities are estimated to have caused about 1°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. However, the IPCC estimates that Earth could see a temperature rise of 1.5°C as early as 2030 if temperatures continue to increase at the current rate.