Global temperatures are running far above last year’s record-setting level, all but guaranteeing that 2015 will be the hottest year in the historical record — and undermining political claims that global warming had somehow stopped.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. agency that tracks worldwide temperatures, announced Wednesday that last month had been the hottest September on record, and in fact took the biggest leap above the previous September that any month has displayed since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. The agency also announced that the January-to-September period had been the hottest such span on the books.
The extreme heat and related climate disturbances mean that delegates to a global climate conference scheduled for Paris in early December will almost certainly be convening as weather-related disasters are unfolding around the world, putting them under greater political pressure to reach an ambitious deal to limit future emissions and slow the temperature increase.
The immediate cause of the record-breaking warmth is a strong El Niño weather pattern, in which the ocean releases immense amounts of heat into the atmosphere. But temperatures are running so far ahead of those during the last strong El Niño, in 1997 and 1998, that scientists said the records would not be occurring without an underlying trend caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.
“The bottom line is that the world is warming,” said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with NOAA, in Asheville, North Carolina.
She pointed to measurements in several of the world’s ocean basins, where surface temperatures are as much as three degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, a substantial increase when calculated over such large areas.
“We’re seeing it all across the Indian Ocean, in huge parts of the Atlantic Ocean, in parts of the Arctic oceans,” Blunden said in an interview. “It’s just incredible to me. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
The combined effects of El Niño and greenhouse warming are already roiling weather patterns worldwide, likely contributing to dry weather and forest fires in Indonesia, to an incipient drought in Australia and to a developing food emergency across parts of Africa, including a severe drought in Ethiopia. Those effects are likely to intensify in coming months as the El Niño reaches its peak and then gradually subsides.