You may not have been able to tell, considering that Australia was in the middle of winter, but last month was the hottest month on Earth since humans began keeping scientific records in the 1880s. In all likelihood, it was the hottest month since the last interglacial period ended 125,000 years ago.
Image: Christopher L./Flickr
That is according to NASA, whose preliminary data on July 2016’s place in the climate science hall of fame and misery was promptly tweeted out by Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt. As you can see from that stray temperature anomaly line at the top of the graph below, no other year has really given 2016 a run for its money.
July 2016 was absolutely the hottest month since the instrumental records began. pic.twitter.com/GQNsvARPDH
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) August 15, 2016
Globally, Earth’s surface temperature last month averaged 0.84C higher than the historic mean temperature for July. July, 2016 also pulled in 0.11C warmer than July 2015, swiping the title of hottest month in recorded history. Although our planet has seen a seemingly endless string of record-smashingly hot months (14 according to NOAA, but who’s counting?) the hottest of the year always occurs at the height of the northern hemisphere’s summer.
What’s fuelling the planetary perspiration? We’re still coming off the tail-end of a very strong El Niño, which managed to stir up a lot of heat in the equatorial Pacific, not to mention push our atmosphere past the historic 400 ppm CO2 milestone for an entire year. Of course, what nudged us close to the 400 ppm milestone, and what continues to fuel heat record after heat record isn’t just El Niño, but the inexorable burning of fossil fuels and release of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere.
In other words, it isn’t too surprising that we just lived through the hottest month on record. You may remember that July saw exceptional heat waves around the world, with punishing, corn sweat-fuelled temperatures of above 48.8C across the central United States. On July 21, thermometers in Mitribah, Kuwait jumped to 54C — a single-day heat record for the eastern hemisphere.
It’s almost as if parts of our planet are soon going to become uninhabitable for humans. Oh yeah, science predicted that, too.