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It's official: May is now Earth's hottest on record

We can't keep up.

DAVID NIELD
17 JUN 2016
 

Our climate is changing, and quickly: NASA says May 2016 was the hottest month on the planet since we started keeping records, with the Arctic in particular seeing temperatures way above what might normally be expected.

"Abnormal is the new normal," said David Carlson from the World Climate Research Programme, which helped collate the data.

 

Alaska had its warmest spring on record by a "wide margin", the statistics show, while temperatures in Finland during May were 3-5°C higher than they usually are at this time of year. All told, the all-time record for a May temperature was broken in 20 observation stations across the world.

There's more: Australia has just had its warmest autumn on record (1.86°C above average), and a new low was logged in terms of snow and ice cover in the Arctic, with a mere 12 million square kilometres (4.63 million square miles) averaged over the month. That's almost 1.4 million square kilometres (537,000 square miles) below the long-term average measured from 1981 to 2010.

You can check out NASA's data for yourself, but it makes for troubling reading for those worried about the impact of climate change on our planet. In other words, those government treaties to try and combat the problem can't be put in place soon enough.

"The state of the climate so far this year gives us much cause for alarm," said Carlson, pointing out that the especially warm El Niño phase of weather is only partly to blame. "The rapid changes in the Arctic are of particular concern. What happens in the Arctic affects the rest of the globe. The question is will the rate of change continue? Will it accelerate? We are in uncharted territory."

Perhaps the only consolation is that scientists are always improving the quality of the data and the instruments they use to measure the world's weather – and the better we can understand it, the better we can recognise the harm human activity causes.

Meteorologists say increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, caused by human emissions, has been made worse this year by the 2016 El Niño.

"Since human emissions are now 25 percent greater than in the last big El Niño in 1997/98, this all adds up to a record CO2 rise this year," said Richard Betts from the University of Exeter in the UK.

nasa-dataNASA

A paper written by Betts and colleagues at the Met Office in the UK has now been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Oh, and April 2016 was the hottest April on record too, in case you were wondering. From the looks of it, 2016 is on course to be the hottest year we've seen since we started measuring temperatures properly in the 1950s, and by quite some distance.

There isn't really any way to sugar-coat the statistics, but rather than despairing at the news, let's take it as a reminder that we can all make a difference in tackling climate change. Get involved, guys!

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