February 2024 was the hottest on record, with global temperatures surpassing critical climate threshold

The world has suffered another month in a row of record-breaking heat. New data from Copernicus, the European Union’s climate change monitoring service, shows that last month was the warmest February on record globally, with “exceptionally high” temperatures in both the air and sea.

The record heat comes as the US continues to battle extreme weather events. In recent weeks, communities across the country have seen this spring and summer-like temperaturesextreme rain and flooding, huge snowfalland fire conditions that Texas’ largest forest fire ever which quickly became one of the largest in American history. These types of extremes are a byproduct of the climate change-induced increase in global temperatures, and are only expected to become more frequent and intense as warming continues.

Daily global mean surface air temperature (°C) deviations from estimated values ​​for 1850–1900, plotted as time series for each year from January 1, 1940 to March 3, 2024.

C3S/ECMWF


According to Copernicus, the average surface air temperature in February was 13.54 degrees Celsius (about 56.4 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s 1.77 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average for February, making it the ninth straight month in which every month globally was the warmest on record. That comes later 2023 broke the record for the warmest year.

The highest temperatures in February, considered “exceptionally high,” were observed within the first two weeks of the month, Copernicus found. Scientists from the group said that during that time, the Earth’s daily average temperature reached 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average on four consecutive days, from February 8 to 11.

Mean daily sea surface temperature (°C) over the extrapolar global ocean (60°S–60°N) for 2015 (dark blue), 2016 (light blue), 2020 (yellow), 2023 (red), and 2024 (black line). All other years between 1979 and 2022 are shown with gray lines.

Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF


The world’s oceans – which absorb 90% of the Earth’s heat – saw that too record high temperatures. Copernicus found that the average global sea surface temperature in February was 21.06 degrees Celsius (69.9 degrees Fahrenheit), which the agency said is “the highest for any month in the dataset.”

Such high ocean temperatures only contribute to the cycle of global warming. Warming oceans lead to melting sea ice, which is essential in reflecting the sun’s rays to help maintain cooler temperatures. Without the ice, sea levels will continue to rise and temperatures will continue to rise, two factors that fuel extreme weather events.

Warmer oceans also lead to rampant oceans coral bleachingfurther threatening marine ecosystems and economies.

Copernicus Climate Change Service/ECMWF


Climate scientists have long warned of various climate thresholds that put the world at further risk of weather extremes that threaten people around the world, especially those living along coasts and on islands. These thresholds include reaching several years of global temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or even more severe warming of 2 degrees. January marked the registered for the first time that the global average temperature over a twelve-month period has reached the threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming.

The fact that February surpasses these milestones does not mean that the world as a whole has crossed the threshold, but it does indicate that human activity continues along the same path.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said that while the data is “remarkable”, it is “not really surprising, because the continued warming of the climate system will inevitably lead to new extreme temperatures”.

“The climate responds to the actual concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” he said. “So unless we manage to stabilize these, we will inevitably face new global temperature records and their consequences.”

The recent records come amid an ongoing El Niño event that started last summer. The system occurs every two to seven years when the Pacific Ocean experiences “warmer than averagesurface temperatures. The most recent El Niño peaked in December, and at that peak it was “one of the five strongest on record,” according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“It is now gradually weakening, but it will obviously continue to influence the global climate in the coming months,” WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis said at a recent briefing. “So even after it disappears completely, we will still feel the impact of this event.”

This El Niño in particular was at least partially fueled by human activity, she said, as people continue to burn fossil fuels, releasing greenhouse gases that essentially blanket the atmosphere and trap the sun’s heat.

“El Niño is a naturally occurring event, but everything now, all El Niño events, all La Niña events, are happening in the context of a climate that has been radically changed by human activities,” Nullis said. “We do expect above-normal temperatures in the coming months.”

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