Earth has had a remarkably hot first quarter of the year, with the January through March period coming in as the warmest such period on record, according to information released Friday. Global average temperatures for the January through March period, showing the clear long-term warming trend. The NOAA found that March was not only record warm, but the amount by which the monthly average temperature exceeded previous such months was itself noteworthy.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms information from NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), which indicated that 2015 was off to an unusually toasty start.
According to NOAA, March was the warmest such month on record, at 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, beating out 2010 by 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The JMA also found March was the warmest such month in its database, whereas NASA ranked the month in third place. Each center uses different methods to gather and analyze global temperature information, resulting in different rankings.
Using the NOAA’s data, seven of the past 11 months — May, June, August, September, October and December 2014, as well as March 2015, have tied or set new record-high monthly temperatures.
Global average temperatures for the January through March period, showing the clear long-term warming trend.
The NOAA found that March was not only record warm, but the amount by which the monthly average temperature exceeded previous such months was itself noteworthy. According to NOAA, the March 2015 global temperature was the third-highest monthly departure from average on record for any month, coming in just 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the anomalies for February 1998 and January 2007.
The first quarter of 2015 was the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 1.48 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average; this beat the previous record set in 2002 by 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average global land-surface temperature for the first quarter of 2015 was the warmest on record, whereas global ocean temperatures were the third-highest on record.
Most of Europe, Asia, South America, eastern Africa, and western North America were much warmer than average, with record warmth particularly notable in the western United States and eastern Siberia along the Verkhoyansk Range, NOAA said in an analysis.
As for the oceans, record warmth for the three-month period was notable in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and the southwest Pacific east of Australia, while the North Atlantic between Canada and the United Kingdom was much cooler than average, with a record cold swath within that region.
January through March temperature anomalies.
The unusual warmth in the northeast Pacific has been observed for well over a year, and recent studies show it may be contributing to the record California drought by re-routing weather systems away from the Southwest.
El Niño conditions were present during March, which helps boost global average surface temperatures. These conditions are characterized by a broad area of milder-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, there is a 70% chance that the El Niño will last through the summer, adding extra heat to an atmosphere that is already warming due in large part to manmade emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane.
There are some signs that the El Niño may be strengthening, based on observed movement of a downwelling pulse of warm water eastward, under the surface of the tropical Pacific. Such pulses are known as Kelvin Waves, and are instrumental in forming and reinforcing El Niño conditions.
The ongoing and quite pronounced Kelvin Wave is already helping to increase sea-surface temperatures in parts of the tropical Pacific, with temperature anomalies below the surface measured by buoys as high as about 8 degrees Fahrenheit above average. This, plus some observed changes in the atmosphere across the Pacific lends some support to the idea that El Niño may be settling in for an extended stay.
Official forecasts don’t specify the odds that El Niño will be particularly strong. According to Michelle L’Heureux, a scientist with the Climate Prediction Center, determining the future evolution of El Niño is especially difficult around this time of year. “We’re not ready to take a stab at strength either b/c we believe all strength options (weak to strong) are still on the table and it is still too early to really say,” she told Mashable in an email.
She said the downwelling Kelvin wave could be followed by an upwardly moving pulse of cooler than average ocean waters, which would negate some of the impacts from the warm pulse.
“During May through July of last year, an upwelling phase did come in after the downwelling state and temporarily decreased the amount of available heat supply below the ocean,” L’Heureux said. “Right now [emphasis hers] there isn’t a strong indication of that happening again, but it is something to watch for.”
A prolonged or moderate to severe El Niño would significantly increase the already high odds that 2015 will set another all-time global temperature record, as last year did.
Nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since the year 2000, with 13 of the 15 hottest years on record globally all occurring during just the past 15 years, based on NOAA data.
The odds of this happening by chance — that is, rather than due to a combination of manmade pollution and natural climate variability — are less than 1-in-27 million, according to the climate research and journalism group Climate Central. This year Earth is off to warmest start in at least 136 years