Despite Stronger La Nina, January of 2018 was the Fifth Hottest in the 138 Year Climate Record

Major signals of on an ongoing and inexorable global warming trend continued to be apparent during January of 2018, according to NASA records.

The first month of this year saw global temperatures in the range of 0.78 degrees Celsius above NASA’s 20th Century baseline — or about 1 C warmer than 1880s averages when NASA record-keeping began.

Despite the influence of La Nina — which during 2018 is stronger than a similar 2017 Pacific Ocean cooling event — January was the 5th hottest such month in all of the 138 year global climate record. According to NASA, all of the top five hottest Januaries ever recorded have occurred since 2007, with four of those five occurring during the last five years.

(Arctic warming is the primary feature of the fifth hottest January in NASA’s 138 year climate record. Image source: NASA.)

Warm temperature departures for the month were most extreme over the Arctic, over western North America, and through North and Western Europe. This outlier warmth contributed to record low sea ice extent measures in the Arctic and helped to rapidly expand drought conditions across the U.S. In the Southern Hemisphere, Antarctica — recently seeing a series of glacial calving events in the west which hint at a quickening pulse of ice entering the world’s rising oceans — saw an abnormally warm austral summer month. Meanwhile, Australia experienced its own third hottest January even as concerns over renewed mass coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef were again on the rise.

During La Nina, movement of warm air and water toward the polar region is enhanced. To this point, global sea ice extent measures are again in record low ranges even after receiving a serious hammering during the winter of 2017. In January, record to near record polar warmth helped to drive a rapid fall in global sea ice extent to today’s record low values in the range of 16 million square kilometers.

Record low sea ice coverage is a climate change amplifier in that it uncovers dark ocean surfaces that capture more of the sun’s rays than white, reflective ice. In addition, open ocean ventilates more heat into the polar atmosphere. Heat that would typically be sequestered beneath the ice. This warming amplification (polar amplification) can also have an impact on the polar circulation of the Jet Stream — causing it to meander more which results in increasing instances of extreme weather (hot, cold, wet, dry, stormy) in the middle latitudes.

(Global sea ice extent is again in record low ranges. This is a primary signal of a warming polar environment — which can have far-ranging harmful impacts. Image source: Global Sea Ice and NSIDC.)

Over the coming months, we should expect some continued stress to both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice — with the caveat being that cloudier late springs and early summers have tended to retard warm season ice loss during recent years in the Northern Hemisphere. That said, continued movement into record low ranges for the Arctic hint that rapid advance of melt during winter may eventually translate to summer.

The primary driver of these serious changes to the global environment is continued fossil fuel burning. And with atmospheric CO2 likely to hit between 411 and 412 parts per million this year (with CO2e ranging toward 493 ppm adding in all greenhouse gasses) the amount of warming already being locked in is starting to look quite dangerous in a number respects. That said, damage can still be greatly limited if the world works to rapidly transition toward renewable energy and keeps harmful fuels where they belong — in the ground.


Leave a comment


  1. Shawn Redmond

     /  February 20, 2018

    When dead trees decompose, they release stored carbon back to the atmosphere. So when millions of trees are destroyed by beetles, it is not just devastating for wildlife – it makes climate change worse.

    and make great kindling!

    • kassy

       /  February 20, 2018

      And before that it looks really sad.

      Our Mordor.

    • The assault on trees has been led by fossil fuels, but the agency of harm to them comes in many forms. Shifting climate zones, nitrogen toxicity, invasives, drought, storm, salt water inundation, and fire are all just examples. Once you lose a forest, it’s that much harder to get it back — along with all the helpful services it provides.

      • Darren Moffatt

         /  February 20, 2018

        Once you lose a forest there’s every chance you lose soil. Once you lose soil you don’t get it back within human timeframes. Without soil you have lost the potential for carbon sequestration that that ground had where it was. You also probably have increased siltation and hence flooding risk in waterways downstream. Further into the future with an increasingly acidified ocean silt runoff into the ocean can spawn algal blooms the self suffocation of which can trigger hydrogen sulfide emissions. We really need to keep the hills covered in healthy forest cycling carbon dioxide to oxygen and holding and building soil.

        • Definitely a process you don’t want to speed. Soil loss through erosion definitely has a link to dead zone formation downstream. And you get a bit of negative synergy with increasingly extreme rainfall. However, you don’t really see worst case ocean scenarios until you get into the 8-12 C range despite enablement by forest loss.

  2. kassy

     /  February 20, 2018

    411-412…we just breezed past that 400 number. And that was september 2016?

    Committed sea-level rise under the Paris Agreement and the legacy of delayed mitigation action

    Sea-level rise is a major consequence of climate change that will continue long after emissions of greenhouse gases have stopped. The 2015 Paris Agreement aims at reducing climate-related risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero and limiting global-mean temperature increase. Here we quantify the effect of these constraints on global sea-level rise until 2300, including Antarctic ice-sheet instabilities. We estimate median sea-level rise between 0.7 and 1.2 m, if net-zero greenhouse gas emissions are sustained until 2300, varying with the pathway of emissions during this century. Temperature stabilization below 2 °C is insufficient to hold median sea-level rise until 2300 below 1.5 m. We find that each 5-year delay in near-term peaking of CO2 emissions increases median year 2300 sea-level rise estimates by ca. 0.2 m, and extreme sea-level rise estimates at the 95th percentile by up to 1 m. Our results underline the importance of near-term mitigation action for limiting long-term sea-level rise risks.

  3. Martin Katz, Ph.D.

     /  February 20, 2018

    Quibble. NASA did not exist until the 1950’s. Official world land temperature records began in 1880. NASA started recording temperatures from satellites in 1968. NASA expanded temperature recording into the Polar zones for full global coverage in 1978.

  4. So far the February anomaly looks like it will be a great deal higher than January’s. While a bit stronger than the 2016 La Niña, this La Niña is looking very weak.

    • Would call it rather weak. Last year’s was just barely a La Niña, so it’s not a tough one to surpass.

      Relatively decent warm water pool forming deep in the western Pacific.

  5. Jimbot

     /  February 21, 2018

    Thanks RS, another great report.

    I think you could say however, “lower global sea ice extent DOES have far-ranging harmful impacts ”

    Meanwhile methane readings of 2700 ppb commonly seen this year in the Arctic.

  6. Hilary

     /  February 21, 2018

    Update from NZ, post-Gita:
    For those of you familiar with NZ you will understand how extensive & widespread this damage & disruption is, and scroll down through the live feed for even more images.

    At least maybe now, after 2 ex-tropical cyclones in less than a month causing major damage & disruption to similar areas we may begin to make some progress in on building resilience for the future? See this following conversation:

    “All along the West Coast are tiny communities slowly being eaten by the sea.
    Every time a storm hits, strong winds, heavy swells and storm surges destroy more of the coastline. Some communities are just a dozen metres from where the ocean stops, for now.
    Brent Dyhrberg was evacuated last night, when ex-Cyclone Gita was approaching the small town of Hector, 30km north of Westport. He loves the town, but a few months ago his home was 40m from the sea, and now it’s 35m away.
    “It’s paradise to us,” he told John Campbell.
    “We don’t really want to leave, but we were just discussing before we’ve probably given it another three to five years, and we may have to seriously consider leaving. It’s inundating our property.”
    Buller Mayor Garry Howard says coastal erosion is a continual problem: “A one way track.”
    “Those properties are going to continually be threatened, sandwiched between the sea and the state highway. What is the answer?”
    Local councils can’t necessarily afford to buy out properties, or protect homes. That’s a conversation that has to be held with central government, he says.
    “Some of those tough discussions are going to have to take place. How do we fund it and where is that going to lie?”
    Civil Defence Minister Kris Faafoi agrees.
    While Mr Dyhrberg waits for more formal conversations and decisions, he watches the sea get closer and wonders what’s to come. Can the Tasman be kept out, can their homes be moved back, will they be bought out and asked to move?”


    • New Zealand, which was long thought of as a global safe haven, is certainly not immune to the impacts of climate change. No place really is.

  7. I like this pages.

  8. Andy_in_SD

     /  February 21, 2018

    Looks like a big heat blob pushing into the arctic in the 5 day forecast. This may chew up / weaken the ice pack a bit.

    • GFS is predicting another above freezing event for the North Pole by February 24-25. Right now, the Bering Sea is being blasted free of ice by a subsequent warm wind event.

  9. Shawn Redmond

     /  February 21, 2018
    Overall, our analysis shows that widespread persistent changes in the distribution of daily-scale temperature extremes have already occurred over large parts of the Earth, and that these observed changes are likely due to anthropogenic influence, especially the historical increase of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Further, the fact that the emergence of these changes is delayed over many areas in the CMIP5 ‘Historical’ simulations suggests that those models may also underestimate the speed and spatial extent of future changes in the distribution of temperature extremes over parts of the Earth.

    • Thanks for this, Shawn. Excellent work by the study authors.

      • Shawn Redmond

         /  February 22, 2018

        Your welcome Robert. I wish these things were easily shown to be wrong though. It’s more than a bit unnerving when you look at the dates and that the paper, as with any well done work, is already “old” because of due process.


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