It's official: NASA tags August 2016 as hottest month on record

According to a report from NASA, August 2016 was the hottest August on the planet – at least, since scientists began keeping records in the 1880s. 

David Ake/AP
A runner passes the reflecting pool on the National Mall in Washington DC on Friday, August 12, 2016. An excessive heat watch has been issued for the area on that day.

This year is poised to be the hottest year on record, as August has tied July for the warmest month since 1880.

This August was 0.29 degrees F. (0.16 C) warmer than the previous year, according to an analysis the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York released Monday. July was 0.2 F. (0.11 C) warmer than the previous year.

A fifth or even third of a degree might not sound like a lot. But monthly temperature rankings are "inherently fragile" Gavin Schmidt, NASA GISS director, said in a news release.

"We stress that the long-term trends are the most important for understanding the ongoing changes that are affecting our planet," he said.

Right now, the trend doesn't look good. In addition to August marking the 11th consecutive month in which monthly average temperatures have been broken, it also defied seasonal norms: August is traditionally cooler than July, when the summer temperature cycle typically peaks. This abnormality suggests the Earth is continuing to warm, even after experts predicted the planet would enter a cooler La Niña  period after one of the strongest El Niño periods on record.

NASA conducted the analysis through data it acquired from 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship and buoy-based instruments that measure sea-surface temperatures, and Antarctic research stations, according to the release.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will likely confirm the NASA findings when it releases this week its own global temperature statistics for August, according to Tech Times. NOAA uses slightly different methods to calculate the global average. The agency estimates August will be the 16th consecutive month of recording-breaking temperatures.

Not all monthly temperatures are important, climate researchers say, as Molly Jackson wrote for The Christian Science Monitor in March. But, that’s why every monthly temperatures since October 2015 has been that much more significant.

Until October 2015, no month had ever varied more than 1 degree C from the 1951-1980 average. The coldest months were less than one degree colder than average, and the hottest months were less than one degree hotter.

But every month since then has shattered that threshhold: October 2015 was 1.06 degree C above average, November was 1.03 degree C above, then 1.10 degree C in December, 1.14 degree C in January, and now 1.35 degree C in February. 

This record-breaking heat is also already having effects on the environment, from vanishing ice in the Poles, to overheated seas, as Simone McCarthy reported for the Monitor in July.

These global changes come amid the December 2015 Paris Accord environmental pact. The nearly 200 nations in attendance agreed to "pursue efforts" to limit Earth's temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. These efforts include the reduction of emissions and investments in carbon sinks and cleaner energy.

The attending nations then designated 2 degrees C as the collective target the Earth's temperature must be held below. Such a temperature increase would still result in detrimental effects, such as severe weather and rising oceans, but could help the Earth avoid true catastrophe, scientists said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct an error in the temperature increase from the months of August in 2015 to 2016. It is 0.16 degrees C. 

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