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March of 2018 Was the Sixth Hottest on Record

The surface region of the globe continues to cool relative to the record hot year of 2016. Equatorial Pacific ocean surface temperatures have remained near or within La Nina states for much of 2017-2018. And the result has been a slight dip as a part of the longer term warming trend.

But as you can see in the graphic below, post 2016 cooling doesn’t look very cool at all. In contrast, most of the world is still in the grips of record heat. And so long as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels remain so high and continue to rise, this state is unlikely to change. Inevitably, unless the build-up of greenhouse gasses through fossil fuel burning slackens, more global record hot years are on the way.

(March of 2018 was 0.89 C warmer than NASA’s 20th Century baseline or 1.11 C warmer than 1880s averages. Image source: NASA.)

Much of the world experienced warmer than normal temperatures during March despite the relative cool-down — with peak heating hitting as high as 7.4 C above average over the Bering and Chukchi seas of the Arctic. Central through East Asia was also far warmer than normal, as was most of Antarctica. A backing up of the Jet Stream generated cooler than normal conditions over Europe and a persistent trough across the U.S. East Coast produced cooler and stormier weather as well. A cool pool over the Equatorial Pacific was a signature of La Nina — a period of natural variability that tends to drive cooler surface temperatures. But a world at sixth hottest on record despite La Nina isn’t really cool at all.

Extending into Record Warm Territory

Overall, we are still in the process of entering new, record warm territory globally. Ever since 2016, global temperatures have not dipped below the 1 C above 1880s averages range on an annual basis. And it is unlikely that they will ever do so again. At least not until the world’s governments resolve themselves to stop burning fossil fuels and to draw down carbon from the atmosphere.

Presently, in the 2016 to 2020 period, it appears that we are exploring a global temperature range between 1 and 1.2 C above 1880s averages. This is comparable to the lower range of the Eemian climate period (around 120,000 years ago) when the North Atlantic was much stormier than we’re used to and when oceans were between 10 and 20 feet higher than they are today. It is a temperature range that supports both stronger droughts and more severe rainfall. A range that is increasing the peak intensity of the most intense thunderstorms and hurricanes. One that is causing serious damage to corals, that threatens ice free Arctic summers, that is increasing Antarctic and Greenland melt rates, that is threatening water supplies for major cities, and that is causing disruptions to crops — from flooding deltas to less predictable growing seasons.

(2018 may become the coolest year of the late 2010s. However, despite a second consecutive La Nina in the Pacific, it will still be far warmer than the super El Nino year of 1998 — which has been left in the dust as a global marker. Image source: NASA.)

At some point during a coming El Nino — possibly as early as fall of 2018, but more likely by the early 2020s — the 1.2 C threshold range will again be tested. By the late 2020s to early 2030s, it is likely that the 1.5 C line will be crossed. The result will be even more climate damage and disruption than we presently experience.

March of 2018, as the sixth hottest March on record, is just one point in time. One dot on the graph that measures the larger trend of human-forced warming. A dot in a world that is facing down increasing damages due to climate change. A world that is now morally called to act with far greater resolve than we have ever displayed before. We have seen far too many delays. And the hard pass is upon us. Those who rise to the occasion will be the heroes of our age. Those who fail — its villains.

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