Monthly global average temperature anomaly in January, 1890-2016. Graphic: Japan Meteorological Agency

By Peter Hannam 
16 February 2016

(Sydney Morning Herald) – This year has got off to a scorching start, with global temperatures marching to new highs as a giant El Niño rode on the back of creeping climate change, data from Japan and the US show.

Just a month after the world notched its hottest year on record, January's  global land and sea-surface temperatures were 0.52 degrees above the average for 1981-2010, Japan's Meteorological Agency reported.

The departure from the norm easily eclipsed the previous record of 0.29 degrees shared equally by 2002, 2007 and 2015, the agency said.

Temperatures in January are rising at the rate of about 0.75 degrees per century, the agency said.

While more data will be released in coming days by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a chart from fellow US agency NASA (see below) also shows January's temperature spiking higher.

The data indicates last month had the biggest increase over the previous record for any month in more than a century of records.

Global January temperature anomaly, 1880-2016. Graphic: NOAA

January also had the largest anomaly – or departure from the long-term norm – for any month on record, Stefan Rahmstorf, a researcher from Germany's Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and a visiting professorial fellow at the University of New South Wales, says.

"The record is helped along a bit by El Niño, but most of it - more than 80 per cent - is due to human-caused global warming," Dr Rahmstorf said. 

"A strong El Niño event can elevate the monthly global temperature by up to 0.2 degrees, but this January is a whopping 1.1 degrees warmer than the average January during the baseline period of 1951-1980."

During El Niño years, the usual westward-blowing trade winds stall or reverse, lowering the rate the ocean absorbs the excess heat being trapped in the atmosphere by rising levels of greenhouse gases.

Global annual temperature records were broken in 2014 and then again in 2015, with the UK Met Office forecasting 2016 may lift the temperature bar again.

"This sequence of new records every few years - and now even two in a row - reflects the on-going rapid global warming trend," Dr Rahmstorf said.

"As the El Niño event winds down over the coming months we can expect somewhat lower global temperatures again for a while, but the global warming trend will continue until we phase out fossil fuels," he said. [more]

Global temperatures leap higher in January, smashing records



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