If you haven’t noticed this summer, it’s been a hot one.
July was the hottest month ever recorded, based on data stretching back 136 years. Every month since October 2015 has set a new record high temperature for that month.
And while some of those most recent highs have been influenced by an ongoing El Niño event in the Pacific, the trend is and has been clear: The world is getting warmer.
“It wasn’t by the widest of margins, but July 2016 was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880,” NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt recently noted in an announcement of the latest temperature data (this most recent July had stiff competition from Julys in 2015, 2011, and 2009).
“It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record,” Schmidt said.
In order to clearly demonstrate this trend, NASA Earth Observatory created a GIF (which we spotted thanks to climate reporter Jeremy Deaton) that shows how monthly temperatures from 1880 compare to the 1980-2015 mean monthly temperature.
As you can see, that long term trend is clear.
“While the El Niño event in the tropical Pacific this winter gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards,” Schmidt told NASA Earth Observatory, “it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers.”
Schmidt has said before that we’d still have set temperature records over these months without El Niño.
The general upward trend is driven by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Approximately 75% of daily “hot extremes” can be attributed to global warming, according to a recent study in Nature Climate Change.
As temperatures continue to rise, it will get harder and harder to limit warming to the 1.5-degree Celsius target that experts think might help us avoid the worst effects of climate change. If we end up hitting two degrees of warming, scientists say we could be in for a disastrous situation.
“[E]ven if we are able to limit the rise in global air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century and stop the increase at that point, the ocean holds so much heat that it can continue melting ice sheets and thus raising sea level far beyond that point in time,” explains a NASA feature on why that extra half degree of warming is such a big deal.
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