August 2016 is now the 11th straight month to set a high temperature record, according to preliminary data released by NASA. Should this trend continue, 2016 will be the third consecutive year to become the hottest year on record.
August tied July for being the hottest recorded month since 1880, when record-keeping began, according to a NASA statement on Sept. 12. Earth’s seasonal temperature cycle typically peaks in July, but NASA reports global warming and natural climate variability has thrown that off, at least for this year.
The heat is affecting weather across the globe. According to Mark Serreze, the director of the National Climatic Data Center, sea ice in the Arctic has melted to the second-lowest amount on record, with open water approaching the North Pole, reports Mashable. Research done by the World Weather Attribution Center reports the record temperatures have also brought flood disasters to the U.S., including the billion-dollar flood in Louisiana in August.
“We are feeling climate change impacts right here, right now,” Union of Concerned Scientists climate scientist Astrid Caldas wrote in a blog post. “From wildfires and droughts to devastating floods, climate change fingerprint is all around us and does play a role in making events more extreme.”
For climate scientists, the long-term increase in temperatures throughout the 20th and 21st centuries are even more significant than monthly climate events.
"Monthly rankings, which vary by only a few hundredths of a degree, are inherently fragile," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in a statement. "We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet."
NASA analysis shows an upward trend in global temperatures in recent decades, with warming occurring in the oceans and atmosphere over time. What's troublesome this year especially, according to scientists and policymakers, is that the temperature anomalies seen in 2016 are approaching limits set by the Paris Agreement on climate.
The agreement, negotiated by the European Commission in December 2015 and expected to go into effect at the end of 2016, seeks to hold global average surface temperatures below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, relative to preindustrial levels. It also aims to limit warming to at or below 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels.
“I certainly would not say that we have now gotten to that initial Paris number and are going to stay there,” Schmidt reported to The New York Times in July. “But I think it’s fair to say that we are dancing with that lower target.”