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August 2016 was the warmest month recorded in 136 years of modern record-keeping, according to NASA.
OUT OF THIS WORLD | What's Up In Climate Change - a glance at the most important news about our warming world

Earth just experienced its hottest northern summer on record


Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 1:55 PM - 2016 sets even more heat records with the hottest month of August ever recorded, topping off the hottest northern summer ever, the Northwest Passage sees yet another ice-free summer, and the Paris Climate Agreement comes one step closer to ratification. It's What's Up in Climate Change!

Hottest August on Record

August 2016 has set a new record, as being the hottest month of August that anyone has lived through, since we began keeping temperature records, 137 years ago. 

NASA posted this conclusion just last week, and now NOAA is confirming it.

According to NOAA:

• The August 2016 temperature departure of 0.92oC (1.66oF) above the 20th century average of 15.6oC (60.1oF) surpassed the previous record set in 2015 by 0.05oC (0.09oF).
• August 2016 was also the highest monthly land and ocean temperature departure since April 2016 and tied with September 2015 as the eighth highest monthly temperature departure among all months (1,640) on record.
• The June-August seasonal global land and ocean temperature was 0.89oC (1.60oF) above the 20th century average of 15.6oC (60.1oF) — the highest temperature departure from average for June-August in the 1880-2016 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 0.04oC (0.07oF).
• The first eight months of the year were characterized by much-warmer-than-average conditions across much of the globe's surface, resulting in the highest January–August period on record at 1.01oC (1.82oF) above the 20th century average of 14.0oC (57.3oF).
• Fourteen of the 15 highest monthly land and ocean temperature departures in the record have occurred since February 2015.

Based on temperatures so far this year, something completely extraordinary would need to happen during the remaining months of the year to avoid 2016 becoming the next hottest year on record.


Year-to-date global temperatures, 2016 compared to the previous 7 warmest years in the records. Credit: NOAA

In the graph above, the triangles marked for the months of September through December represent a scenario where the rest of 2016 carries on as 1998 did for those months. Thus, since August 1998 came in at +0.68oC above the 20th century average, the entire 1998 September-December line on the graph (in dark pink) has been bumped up by +0.24oC, so that it continues on from August 2016's +0.92oC.

The dots marked for those months represent the monthly averages for each month of September through December from years 2001-2015 - the "21st century monthly average" as NOAA called it.

Under both of these scenarios, 2016 would end up being the 2nd warmest year on record, at just behind 2015 in the rankings.

Neither of those scenarios are particularly likely, however. Given 2016's unprecedented heat so far, there is an over 99 per cent chance that this year will become the next hottest year in the record books.

Northwest Passage free of ice again in 2016

For the second year in a row, the northwest passage - the waters between the islands of the Canadian Arctic, which join the northwest Atlantic to the Pacific via the Bering Strait - are free of ice, enough so that ships can easily navigate its waters from one end to the other.


Satellite imagery of the Northwest Passage from August 8, 2016, taken by the Suomi NPP satellite. Credit: NASA/NOAA

Out of the last 10 years, this is the seventh year to see ice-free waters across the Northwest Passage - 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

According to Climate.gov:

In fact, the route was "safe" enough for a luxury cruise ship called the Crystal Serenity to leave harbor in Alaska on a journey through the southern route of the Northwest Passage, called the Amundsen route, bound for New York. According to the New York Times, only 50 passenger ships have completed a trek through the Northwest Passage and only 240 complete trips by any ship have been made since Roald Amundsen’s first trip through the passage 110 years ago. If it finishes its trek, the Crystal Serenity would be the largest ship to ever do so. A spot on the ship did not come cheap, though, with some tourists paying more than $100,000 for a cabin on the boat, in addition to the requirement that passengers carry $50,000 in evacuation insurance in case of an emergency.

Although navigable during some years prior to 2007, such as during Amundsen's journey from 1903 to 1906, and again in 1998, ice still floating around in the waters made going very treacherous. Back in 2007, Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center said that was the fist year it was open in any kind of reliable way.

60 nations are now on board for the Paris Climate Agreement

Representatives from nations around the world are meeting at UN Headquarters, in New York City, this week, in part to advance their commitments to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. 

Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who rallied global support going into the 2015 conference last December, summed up the results in this one tweet:

The first threshold she refers to is having at least 55 parties of the convention ratify the agreement. With a total of 60 parties so far, out of 197, on-board, that's one threshold down.

The second threshold is that the nations ratifying the agreement must account for "at least an estimated 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions," according to the UN website.

Notable members that have ratified the agreement include the United States, China, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. Russia, India, Japan, and (unfortunately) Canada remain on the list of nations that still need to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

With only 7.5 per cent to go, however, hopefully it will not be long before more nations bridge that gap.

Sources: NOAA | Climate.gov | UNFCCC

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