Climate scientists are warning the world may be getting closer to catastrophic global warming faster than projected based on news that February 2016 was the warmest month on record — despite there being an incredibly strong naturally-occurring warming event.
“We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told The Sydney Morning Herald: “This is really quite stunning” and “it’s completely unprecedented.”
Newly updated National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) data shows February was 1.35 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951 to 1980 average for that month. It’s even warmer than January’s 1.14 degrees Celsius — a record level for that month as well.
Gavin Schmidt, the head of NASA’s climate research unit, tweeted his own amazement at the record-high global average temperature for February.
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) March 12, 2016
“Nasa dropped a bombshell of a climate report,” Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, weather data analysts with the Weather Underground, wrote on the website. “February dispensed with the one-month-old record by a full 0.21C – an extraordinary margin to beat a monthly world temperature record by.”
But what’s gone unmentioned is the impact an incredibly strong El Niño warming had on average global temperature last month. Indeed, the current El Niño is said to the strongest such event in 18 years as it warms up ocean temperatures in the Pacific.
El Niño is a naturally-occurring warming phase across the span of the Pacific Ocean along the equator. It occurs fairly regularly, about every two to seven years, and if often followed by a La Niña cooling phase.
The current El Niño reportedly peaked in December 2015, but it’s effects are felt for months after it starts to dissipate — which scientists expected. It’s not clear how much of global average temperature can be attributed to current El Niño, but some say it only results in a few tenths of a degree of warming.
Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Mashable in early March that “El Niño likely accounted for about 0.15 degrees Celsius, or 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit, of the 2015 warming at the surface.”
“Hot temperatures will persist for a few months after El Niño peaks, so this is to be expected,” Agus Santoso, a senior research associate at Australia’s Climate Change Research Center, told The Wall Street Journal. “But underneath the impact of El Niño there is an underlying global warming trend, so the temperature keeps going up.”
While some scientists argue El Niño didn’t contribute a whole lot to global average temperature rise, a Daily Caller News Foundation analysis of estimates from two climate scientists found that without El Niño the record warmth reported in 2015 would have been statistically tied with 2014 for the warmest on record.
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