Less than three months into the year, climate changes around the world are continuing the record-breaking trends seen in 2016.
More than 11,700 daily temperature records across the U.S. were broken in February, with the average temperature 7.3 degrees warmer than normal for the last full month of winter. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Arctic “witnessed the polar equivalent of a heatwave.” This spurred dangerous sea ice melting.
“Even without a strong El Nino in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” World Climate Research Program Director David Carlson said. The Wold Climate Research Program is sponsored by the WMO, the United Nations weather and climate organization.
On Tuesday, WMO issued its annual State of the Global Climate, which is based on multiple international datasets that global climate analysis centers maintain independently. It confirmed previous reports that 2016 is the warmest year on record, which topped the previous record set in 2015. According to NASA data released in January, globally-averaged temperatures last year were .99 degrees Celsius warmer than the mid-20th century mean. The WMO analysis said temperatures last year were up 1.1 degrees Celsius, noting that ocean heat content may be up more than previously reported.
Out of the 17 hottest years ever recorded, 16 of them have occurred since 2000.
In addition to record-high temperatures in the Arctic, Antarctic sea ice is also at a record low. The WMO said that research shows Arctic changes and melting sea ice is impacting wider oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns. This impacts weather around the globe because it disrupts the jet stream. As the U.S. experienced an uncharacteristically warm February, parts of North Africa and the Middle East had unusually cold temperatures.
Last year, globally averaged sea surface temperatures were the warmest on record, following a record set the previous year. Sea levels have risen by almost 8 inches since the start of the 20th century. Last fall, it took an “exceptionally” long time for Arctic ice to freeze.
As oceans rise, other areas of the world experience a severe lack of water. The WMO reports that for the second year in a row in southern Africa, rainfall was 20 to 60 percent below average during summer rainy season in 2016. Last year was the driest on record in the Amazon Basin, and drought conditions were found in northeast Brazil, northern South America and Central America.
WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas said implementation of the Paris Agreement, reached in 2015 under the Obama administration, is vital to addressing the impact of climate change. President Donald Trump has indicated he would withdraw the U.S. from the international agreement that aims to keep global temperature rise in the 21st century under 2 degrees Celsius.
“With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident,” Taalas said. “Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change.”