The first half of 2016 was the warmest such period by far in a record dating back 137 years

By Tom Yulsman | July 19, 2016 1:47 pm

Global warming continues, but with El Niño’s passing, Earth’s fever has moderated a bit


Global surface temperature anomalies for the period January 2016 through June 2016. Higher than normal temperatures are shown in red and lower then normal termperatures are shown in blue. (Source: NASA/GISS)

This past month nudged out June 2015 as the warmest on record, according to data just released by NASA.

That makes the first six months of 2016 the warmest first half of any year since 1880. June’s record warmth also means we’ve experienced nine months in a row of record setting temperatures.

A separate analysis released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also shows that the first half of 2016 was the warmest.

By NASA’s reckoning, the first half of 2015 was previously the warmest such period on record. “But 2016 has blown that out of the water,” said Gavin Schmidt, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, at an online briefing today.

Given the torrid start to the year, 2016 is very likely to finish as the warmest year on record.


Graph of the global mean surface temperature for the six-month period of January through June of each year from 1880-2016. The numbers show differences from the pre-industrial era, calculated as the average mean surface temperature of 1880-1899. (Source: NASA/GISS)

About 40 percent of the record high temperatures during the first half of this year has been due to El Niño, and 60 percent due to other factors, according to Schmidt.

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere from human activities make up the main, long-term underlying factor.

“The attribution of the overall trend is very clear, and that is to greenhouse gases,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t matter whether there is an El Niño or a La Niña. Almost all of the uptick in temperatures we’ve seen since the 1960s is due to greenhouse gases.”

For the past six months, the warming has been particularly noteworthy in the high north.

There has been “very, very strong Arctic warming,” Schmidt said.

That, in turn, has caused the extent of Arctic sea ice to plummet:


The difference between the 1981-2010 average extent of Arctic sea ice and each year’s maximum extent. Years with a larger extent of sea ice are colored red and years with a smaller extent of sea ice are colored blue. (Source: NASA/Meier)

Averaged over the first six months, we’ve seen the lowest sea ice extent in the satellite record, as the graph above shows. Every month except for March set a record.

“It has been an extreme start to the year for sea ice,” said Walt Meier of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.


A large melt pond is seen out the window of NASA’s HU-25C Guardian Falcon aircraft during a flight over the Beaufort Sea on July 14, 2016. The flight was undertaken to measure the characteristics of melt ponds on the surface of Arctic sea ice. (Source: NASA/Richard J. Yasky)

Now that El Niño is fading, Earth does seem to be coming off the feverish highs that have characterized monthly reports from NASA since October of 2015. Every month since then has demolished previous monthly records — except June 2016.

The month’s global average surface temperature was .79 degrees C (1.42 F), above the long-term mean. The previous warmest June came in 2015, with a global average temperature of .78 degrees C (1.4 F).

While 2016 is likely to set a record for warmest year, that’s not true of 2017, thanks to El Niño’s passing and the probable development of a cooling La Niña phase by winter.

If things do turn out that way, you’ll most likely hear doubters of climate change sowing confusion with claims of global cooling. Don’t buy it.

“One year being warmer and another cooler isn’t really relevant,” Schmidt cautions. What is relevant is very simple: “sustained increased temperatures.”

And since the 1960s, that’s precisely what we’ve seen.

  • nosmokewithout

    There is no feel in the general press of humanity yet reaching a tipping point. IT appears humanity is incapable of significant proactive action to respond to this crisis. There is a long way to be travelled before humanity responds effectively! That is worrying!

    • OWilson

      Maybe they just have other things on their minds, like murder and civil war in your cities, and totalitarian terrorism across the world.

      Just a guess!

    • Mike Richardson

      It’s worrying, but not surprising. Look how quickly climate change deniers respond in these threads. Ignore the empirical data showing rising temperatures and melting ice, just rely on feel-good anecdotes and try to argue that more crops will grow despite worsening droughts and flood events. When ideologues encourage fear and irrational responses to other issues that should be handled with clear minds and reasoned policy, why should you expect them to support the same with a problem less clearly immediate, but growing in severity year by year?

      • OWilson


        If you read my post above, I quoted the author of the article above, and quoted a recent report from NASA’s web site.

        Your mishmash of delusion, paranioia, speculation and amateur psychology is a rambling mess, that has no place in reasoned debate!

        Why does simple good news about the planet from your own respected sources, upset you folks so :)

        • Mike Richardson

          “Mishmash of delusion and paranoia?” Doesn’t take much “amateur psychology” to recognize that as the projection it clearly is. But perhaps you should seek a more professional evaluation, just for peace of mind. After all, you’re the one convinced others are out to get you, all while encouraging fear and suspicion of this group or that, and speculating that some anomaly such as a “little Ice Age” (or perhaps BBQman’s weird magnetic gas planets theory) will reverse the clear trend towards warming that’s been well- documented for the past few decades. And just why do you automatically assume you’re always the topic of discussion? Bit grandiose there, seeing as there are plenty of other deniers that I could have been describing. :)

          • OWilson

            Have a nice weekend! :)

  • windy2

    I love the “Fanaticism Of The Apocalypse” attempt to portray warming from the late 1800s, a time when the Earth was exiting an ice age that had caused mass starvation, to now as something ominous and terrifying. Thank goodness it warmed up and transformed the Earth from cold starvation to the current warmth that has brought the world its record breaking food crop yields. I have watched my plants benefit and my fruit tree yields increase and become more drought resistant over the last 30 years, simply amazing.

    I froze my a$$ off in the 1970s and love this warmer world and I plan to enjoy the warming right into the next Maunder like minimum coming soon (according to many solar experts). 😉

    • OWilson

      Even at that,”The month’s global average surface temperature was 0.79 degrees, above the long-term mean”, is hardly apocalyptic.

      The 37 year record from NOAA satellite record shows even less warming, O.34 degrees above the average.

      Your anecdotal observations are correct. The world is actually greening, and food production is setting new world records.

      Here’s NASA:

      NASA April 26, 2016

      “”From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25.

      An international team of 32 authors from 24 institutions in eight countries led the effort, which involved using satellite data from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instruments to help determine the leaf area index, or amount of leaf cover, over the planet’s vegetated regions. The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.””

      • windy2

        “Your anecdotal observations are correct”

        I don’t engage in anecdotal observations. My comment is based on scientific evidence which is seen here:

    • Tom Yulsman

      Windy2: You may find the changing conditions advantageous, but hundreds of millions of other people around the word do not. Certainly 157 million Bangladeshis have nothing to gain from significant portions of their country being inundated by sea level rise. I’m also fairly certain that the 105 million people living in the Horn of Africa aren’t enjoying food shortages and famine from climate-change enhanced drought, nor the prospect of more to come with continued emissions of greenhouse gases. In short, what is happening in your neck of the woods is not necessarily indicative of what is happening in others.

      • windy2

        Bangladesh is a land use issue Tom. Enormous population at river delta is akin to building a huge city in a flood plain like New Orleans. Sea rise has been occurring for 18,000 years. New research shows Antarctica is cooling and ice mass balance gaining so alarm there has been exaggerated.

        Greenland ice mass balance YTD according to DMI is exactly at the 1990-2013 average and not accelerating. Greenland melt = 200 GT/yr which adds .55mm/yr to sea level rise which is not very alarming.

        IPCC AR5 science finds no significant human fingerprint for global drought Tom so what you witness in the Horn of Africa is either natural/cyclical patterns of land cover change and not human CO2. Any drought solutions would necessarily come from adaptation not CO2 reduction with regard to drought problems. California for example has had 200 year droughts in the past and if you doubt me go ask Andy Revkin as he has read the same studies as me.

        I am well educated in climate science with climate researchers in my family as well as climate researchers living in my neighborhood adjacent to an NCAR facility studying climate issue. I am also familiar with paleoclimate studies, data and history.

        I understand the physics of CO2 atmospheric warming and am familiar with calculations of the Earth’s radiation budget. Using scare tactics is not the best approach to get support for climate change action IMO and I would prefer education rather than fright/scare tactics approach using scary models that are not proven to be accurate by any independent science body.

        • OWilson

          There is far more residential, industrial, commercial, airport, shipping, military facility and recreational land presently being reclaimed from the world’s oceans than is being lost.

          Whole cities in some cases in Asia.

          That is despite the usual cherry picking woes about those natural floodplains that have been flooding throughout history and will continue to do whether they insist on rebuilding or not!



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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