NOAA has released its global land and sea temperature analysis for January.
The result is no surprise: The warmest January since record-keeping began in 1880; and the largest increase over the previous comparable month’s record.
The trend is ominous, with the increase from pre-industrial days well over one degree Celsius (1C). The only mitigating factor is El Niño. The recent spike in global temperatures implies that there may be little time before the atmosphere passes the 2C increase that climatologists warn will result in catastrophic weather changes. However, extrapolation from the last strong El Niño indicates that things, though worrisome, are not quite so bad.
January was the ninth consecutive month to set a new land and sea temperature record. The last string of that many months was 1997-8, during the last powerful El Niño.
Global And Hemispheric Land And Sea Temperatures: Effect Of Oceans
The rise in January’s global temperatures was fueled by dramatic sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and a continuation of the rapid rise in arctic temperatures. El Niño got all the news, but the departure from normal in the Indian Ocean was more pronounced.
Many scientists believe that the greatest danger from climate change is disruption of the ocean circulations that stabilize atmospheric temperatures. In addition to the warm equatorial waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, there is a persistent cold pool (The Anti-Blob) in the northern Atlantic. Combined with the warming of the Arctic, these ocean changes may be the first harbingers of serious climate change.
January Temperatures: Overview
January did not sweep away all the old temperature records. The southern hemisphere recorded new highs for land, sea, and combined temperature. But in the northern hemisphere, the land temperature was only the third highest for January. As a result, the global land temperature came in only second.
This is — excuse the pun — cold comfort. Worldwide land and sea temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.
Far-Flung Effects Of El Niño — Or a Long-Term Trend?
In addition to the powerful warming of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the arctic warmed dramatically in January.
The Danish Meteorological Institute reports that the temperature north of 80 degrees was more than 4C above normal every day in January. This followed the astounding warmth at the end of December, as the warm air that brought record Christmas Eve temperatures to the east coast of the US surged all the way to the North Pole.
As a result of the warm air temperatures, the sea ice coverage in the arctic was the lowest ever recorded for January.
January sea ice extent was 5.2 million square miles, 90,000 square miles less than the previous record. This extends the trend of past years, and was expected.
What wasn’t expected was the reversal of the Antarctic sea ice expansion that took place in 2015. January antarctic sea ice extent was 4.3% below the 1981-2010 average.
2016 will be a consequential year for the atmosphere. Whether the far-flung temperature anomalies are consequences of El Niño or a new acceleration of global warming may be decided this year. The dramatic warming of much of the earth’s ocean surface could be the appearance, expected by a sizable percentage of meteorologists, of some of the “missing” energy that should be available from the trapping effect of greenhouse gases, and which is suspected to be stored in the oceans.
Where The Heat Went On
The following locations recorded a record warm January:
- The central tropical Pacific Ocean
- The eastern subtropical Pacific Ocean
- Most of the tropical and subtropical Indian Ocean, both north and south
- Extreme western tropical Atlantic Ocean
- The eastern subtropical South Atlantic Ocean
- The Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the northern US coast
- Extreme eastern North Atlantic Ocean
- The waters south of Australia
- Extreme western tropical Pacific Ocean
- Central America
- Northern South America
- Parts of southern Europe and northern Africa
- Most of southern Africa
- Indonesia and Malaysia
- Afghanistan and neighboring parts of adjacent countries
- Part of northern Siberia
No part of the earth, land or sea, set a record for cold in January, though the Anti-Blob in the Atlantic Ocean south of Greenland and Iceland came close.
What’s Next For Planet Earth?
The climate agreement reached in Paris in December has already begun to succumb to special interests and local politics. Many countries have expressed dismay that the US Supreme Court delayed implementation of regulations of coal-fired power plants. If one of the world’s main polluters drags its feet, others are sure to follow suit.
Global land and sea temperatures are rapidly approaching the point of no return. The COP21 agreement implicitly recognized that attempts to prevent warming of the atmosphere beyond 2C are fairly likely to fail by including a great deal about mitigation of the effects of climate change.
The next few months could be crucial: El Niño will likely fade to neutral conditions by late spring, and La Niña will probably follow. If the cooling of Pacific waters spreads its influence around the globe, humanity may buy some time to get its act together and mount a unified push to stop the atmosphere from overheating..