New climate data released by NASA has shown that the global surface temperature for February 2016 was 1.35C warmer than the 1951-1980 average.

The previous record - an increase of 1.15C on the long-term average for that month- was recorded in January 2016!  Some of this increase can be explained by the current El Nino event, but most of it is caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

2015 has already been declared the hottest year globally since records began in 1850.  The previous record holder was 2014, while 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st Century.  Scientists are now concerned that climate change is happening faster than we thought it would.

The amount of ice in the Arctic was at a record low in February 2016, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.  As a result of this, even more warming is taking place in what is known asa  'feedback process'.  The dark ocean absorbs heat from the sun, whereas white ice reflects heat, keeping the surface relatively cooler.  So with less ice, more ocean is exposed to the sun.  The water absorbs more heat, which in turn melts more ice, increasing the amount of ocean exposed to the sun's warming energy.

On 2 January 2016, temperatures on the Norwegian Arctic island of Longyearbyen reached 6.6C.   Normal average January temperatures there are -15.3C.  There are often swings in Arctic weather, but a temperature this far above the average is being seen as a warning sign.

Meanwhile, the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had increased in 2015 by 3.05 parts per million (ppm) to 402.6 ppm.  This kind of annual increase has not been seen for hundreds of thousands of years.

All of these developments make it even more urgent that the world's governments act sooner rather than later to implement the agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  The goal of the Paris agreement was to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2100 and to limit global warming to well below 2C above pre-Industrial levels.

Photo by Mike Beauregard

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