2016 Continues to Break Climate Records
The six-month period from January to June 2016 has been the planet’s warmest half-year ever on record.
Temperatures were on average 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than average between January and June this year, compared to the late nineteenth century.
The strong El Niño pattern which began in 2015 could not be held entirely to blame. Previous El Niño events have driven temperatures to what were then record levels, such as in 1998. But in 2016, even as the effects of the recent El Niño taper off, global temperatures have risen well beyond those of 18 years ago because of the overall warming that has taken place in that time.
“While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” Gavin Schmidt, director at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement on the agency’s website.
Meanwhile, five of the first six months set records for the smallest monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979. Arctic sea ice now covers 40% less of the Earth than it did just 30 years ago.
“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” NASA Goddard sea ice scientist Walt Meier said in the statement.
“This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year.”
NASA says its scientists are currently studying the sea ice melt in the Arctic and how an increase in temperatures is impacting ecosystems there and around the globe. Increasing temperatures and a warmer Arctic have global implications. The jet stream and weather patterns could shift as the Arctic ice cover continues to diminish.
The sustained above-average temperatures, as the planet has seen so far this century, is also causing a greening of the Arctic. What was once a frozen tundra landscape has practically become a new ecosystem.
“Because of longer, warmer growing seasons coupled with shorter, less brutally cold winters, we’ve had a significant change in the vegetation structure … really changing the landscape,” said Charles Miller, deputy science lead for the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.