June Was 6th Warmest Globally. The Month Brought Raging Wildfires, Brutal Temperatures, and Melting in Greenland

By Tom Yulsman | July 15, 2014 1:48 am

Departures in June from long-term average temperatures are seen in this map from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. (Source: NASA/GISS)

Arctic air may be plunging south into the U.S. midsection this week, but for the globe as a whole, the picture has been quite different recently.

Check out NASA’s latest rendering of the big global picture above. It shows how temperatures departed from the 1951-1980 average in June. The warm colors covering most of the globe attest that June 2014 was quite warm — according to NASA, the sixth warmest in an instrumental record that goes back 134 years.

The map also offers hints of a number of interesting climate-related stories — from raging wildfires to brutal cold. So read on…

A few areas of warmer than average temperatures stand out. One is centered over Canada’s Hudson Bay and extends west to the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. To locate the lake, check out this map:

The warmth in that part of Canada is significant because it has contributed to a dramatic spate of wildfires that has been continuing for quite some time now.


Thick smoke plumes from wildfires burning near Canada’s Great Slave Lake are visible in this image acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite on Sunday, July 13, 2014. (Source: NASA)

In fact, the abnormal warmth in the Northern Territories, combined with extreme drought, has helped fuel what has been described as one of the worst fire seasons ever in the Northwest Territories.

In the image above, captured this past Sunday by NASA’s Aqua satellite, multiple plumes of smoke rise from conflagrations just to the north of the Great Slave Lake, which is visible in the lower portion of the image. (Click on the image, open it in a new browser window, and then click it again for a very high resolution version that shows fine detail.)

Fires in this area, mostly the result of lightning strikes in the hot and dry forests, have sent smoke streaming thousands of miles into the United States. (I wrote about this on July 2nd here. NASA’s Earth Observatory produced its own update on the situation on July 11.)

Now, have a look at the global temperature anomaly map again and focus on Greenland. Here you’ll find another temperature hot spot. And here’s one reason why that one is significant:


The red line plots the extent of surface melting in Greenland. The dashed blue line shows the long-term average. (Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center)

As the graph above shows, since June the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet has been experiencing a greater than average extent of melting. Note the big first spike in June, and continuing above average melt. Anything can happen in the next month or two. But so far melting of snow and ice at the surface has been quite extensive. (Check my earlier post on this here.)

Two other features on NASA’s temperature anomaly map grab my attention: the extreme warmth over the Antarctic Peninsula (lower left in the map), and colder than normal temperatures over East Antarctica (lower right) — a region where temperatures in winter already are the most brutally cold on Earth. The peninsula has actually warmed dramatically in recent decades, whereas temperatures in East Antarctica have been stable or cooling slightly.

A combination of two phenomena make up the prime suspect: ozone depletion in the stratosphere over Antarctica and a strengthening of the polar vortex — a stream of high velocity winds that circle the continent. For the details of how this works, including a possible connection to human-caused global warming, check out this summary.

Speaking of the polar vortex, up in the Northern Hemisphere it’s being blamed for those cold temperatures in parts of the U.S. this week. And for details about that, check out Andrew Freedman’s excellent and detailed explanation at Mashable.

Last but not least, let’s go back to the map of temperature anomalies. Look for an elongated finger of warmer than average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean extending west from the coast of South America. This may well be the precursor to El Niño.

In its latest update, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center kept the odds of El Niño developing at 70 percent, the same as in its previous report. But it’s looking more likely that if it does indeed occur, it won’t be a particularly strong one.

Here are the details from the CPC:

Over the last month, no significant change was evident in the model forecasts of ENSO, with the majority of models indicating El Niño onset within June-August and continuing into early 2015 (Fig. 6). The chance of a strong El Niño is not favored in any of the ensemble averages for Niño-3.4. At this time, the forecasters anticipate El Niño will peak at weak-to-moderate strength during the late fall and early winter…The chance of El Niño is about 70% during the Northern Hemisphere summer and is close to 80% during the fall and early winter (click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome).

I just returned from a trip to profoundly parched California, where a lot of people mentioned El Niño and their hopes that it would bring some desperately needed precipitation. We’ll have to see what happens, but right now I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high.




ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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