Guest Post: The Endless Summer

by Allison Johnston

Written July 2017

Midway through the year, 2017 remains one of the hottest years to date. According to temperature data, last month was the third-hottest June on record across the globe. Consecutively, 2015, 2016 and 2017 have proven to be the hottest years on record. The same data confirms prior calculations that warming is reaching unforeseen levels since hundreds of thousands of years ago, leaving climate experts with little hope that we can halt this drastic increase.

Based on new figures from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the combined land and sea-surface temperatures for June 2017 were .82C above the 20th century average. However, June 2016 holds the record at .92C above the 20th century average, followed closely by June 2015 which was .89C above the standard.

Image Credit: National Climatic Data Center

Image Credit: National Climatic Data Center

NOAA’s figures line up closely with data released by NASA, which found that June 1998 was almost as hot. Climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, assessed 2017 among the top three hottest years on record.

The hotspots around the globe for the month of June included western and central Europe and central Asia. The scorching heat wave in Western Europe, which fueled damaging wildfires in Portugal, likely corresponds with the Earth’s rising temperatures. The U.S. Southwest was another anomaly, showing heat waves so high that an airport in Phoenix, Arizona had to delay or cancel 50 flights. Airline officials attributed the cancellations to the heat as the planes cannot operate above 118F.

The streak of record-breaking monthly temperatures began in April 2015, driven by a powerful El Nino, which disperses warm water across the Pacific Ocean. The near-record temperatures persisted in 2017 despite the passing of El Nino, which typically warms the globe, and its opposite - La Nina - which subdues rising temperatures. “While the El Nino event in the tropical Pacific this winter [2016] gave a boost to global temperatures from October onwards, it is the underlying trend which is producing these record numbers,” said NASA’s Gavin Schmidt.  This warming trend can almost certainly be related to the rising greenhouse gas emissions as a result of burning fossil fuels. Currently, years with La Ninas are now warmer than El Nino years several decades ago. This year began with a La Nina, though weak, but holds temperatures .21C ahead of 1998.

NASA’S Walter Meir believes that the rising global temperatures have been further exacerbated by extreme temperatures displayed over the Arctic. These warm temperatures are increasing the global average, as well as causing record-low amount of sea ice.

Image Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge

Image Credit: NASA/Operation IceBridge

In 2016, Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University wrote that the record temperatures of 2014 would have had minimal chance - less than one in a million - of occurring naturally. He stated in an interview that “the likelihood of three consecutive record-breaking years such as we saw in 2015-2017 was similarly unlikely.”  He continued to say, “we can only explain the onslaught of record warming years by accounting for human-caused warming of the planet.”

Similarly, Andy Pitman from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia stated that the blitz of consistently rapid global warming is very likely the result of the climate system “catching up” after a long interlude of relatively slow warming caused naturally. He concluded that “the Earth is warming at about the long-term rates expected and predicted [by models].” However, he later confirmed that the continuing trend of rising temperature was inconsistent with the target of keeping warming at just 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. He admitted that current forecasts indicate that the 1.5C objective would be breached in the 2040s, or very possibly sooner. He pleaded that “it would be a good idea to cut greenhouse gas emissions rather faster than we are.”

The Paris Climate agreement, which President Trump has fought to pull the U.S. out of, set a goal of limiting warming to under 2C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the 21st century. The average from NASA and NOAA’s climate data shows that June 2017 hit 1.81 above that average, proving how little room is left to keep temperatures under the goal.

David WintersComment