Polar Bears International

NASA Surface Temperature Analysis for November 2015

© NASA

1/6/2016 5:19:13 PM

2015 on Track for Hottest on Record

2015 was a record-breaking year, and not in a good way. December data isn't in yet, but globally, 2015 remains on track to be the hottest year on record, according to WMO's provisional statement on the status of the climate in 2015. Final figures will be released in early 2016.

"The global average surface temperature in 2015 is likely to be the warmest on record and to reach the symbolic and significant milestone of 1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era. This is due to a combination of a strong El Niño and human-induced global warming," according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Previously, 2014 was the warmest year in the modern record according to both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.  

In November, the World Meteorological Organization reported, "The year 2015 will be the second hottest on record in Europe, with mean annual temperatures just above the 2007 average and below the record set in 2014, according to an analysis by one of the World Meteorological Organization's regional climate centers." 

This follows on the heels of the hottest autumn on record, and the hottest first quarter of the year on record to date.

"While impacts will differ in timing and across regions, a warmer world will ultimately have negative consequences for ice-associated life, including polar bears," said Geoff York, Polar Bears International's senior director of conservation. "As with climate science, each year brings increasing lines of evidence from new studies. These reports suggest reductions in physical size, body condition, foraging success, abundance, and shifting movement patterns in some regions as sea ice becomes less predictable."

The planet's warming is hitting the Arctic especially hard. In December, temperatures soared to a new record of 8.7C (47.7F) in Svalbard, Norway, a group of islands located in the Arctic Ocean, about midway between Europe and the North Pole. During the mid-winter months, temperatures usually average -16C (3.2F).

Mild spells and rain do occur on Svalbard during the winter because of its location in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf stream. "But the magnitude and frequency of this weather phenomenon in the last few years have been far from normal," said Brage Hansen, a population ecologist at the Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

"Projections based on IPCC's Global Circulation Models suggest that the frequency and magnitude of these types of events will continue to increase throughout the century," he said.

We've known the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, in fact, NOAA's 2014 Arctic Report Card showed it warming twice as fast as the world average.

The 2015 Arctic Report Card reported, "Maximum sea ice extent on 25 February was 15 days earlier than average and the lowest value on record (1979-present). Minimum ice extent in September was the 4th lowest on record. Sea ice continues to be younger and thinner: in February and March 2015 there was twice as much first-year ice as there was 30 years ago.

"Changes in sea ice alone are having profound effects on the marine ecosystem (fishes, walruses, primary production) and sea surface temperatures."

Early signs already indicate that 2016 could again be a record setter due to the residual effects of El Niño and the influence of human greenhouse gas emissions. 

On the up side, climate action on the international level looks more realistic than ever. The COP21 Paris Agreement should have a positive impact on polar bears, the Arctic, and the planet. The agreement is high on ambition and has the backing of the world's major carbon polluters. It's unlikely the pledges alone will keep the world from warming 2C, but they send a strong signal that the world is finally addressing climate change in a real way.

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