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Global temperatures leap higher in January, smashing records

Global temperatures spiked higher in January, setting records, international agencies say. Photo: Leigh HenninghamThis year has got off to a scorching start, with global temperatures marching to new highs as a giant El Nino 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.

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 Nino, but most of it – more than 80 per cent – is due to human-caused global warming,” Dr Rahmstorf said.

“A strong El Nino 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 Nino 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 Nino 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.

Research cut

The latest record-hot month comes as Australia’s premier scientific organisation, the CSIRO, has announced plans to axe 110 of its climate monitoring and modelling staff.

The cuts are part of a wider reorganisation that will slice 350 jobs before later recruitment in other areas restores the losses.

The move against climate research has been denounced by about 3000 scientists from almost 60 nations, who have signed a petition sent to the Turnbull government. They warn that Australia risks losing world-leading talent and will undermine the ability to observe the changes of the world’s climate, particularly in the southern hemisphere.

CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall has said the two climate units targeted for deep cuts will eventually increase staff but numbers will be half current levels. The freed-up resources will be used for other research priorities including studying Australia’s adaptation needs for the inevitable climate impacts to come as the country warms.

For Australia, mean temperatures were 0.52 degrees above the 1961-90 level used by the Bureau of Meteorology as its yardstick.

All states and the Northern Territory recorded warmer than average mean temperatures, with Tasmania recording its second-warmest January on record, the bureau said.

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