That temperature records are being broken at an all-time high is probably not ground breaking news to anyone who has been paying a modicum of attention to the news lately. However the rate at which we have been breaking records is frighteningly distressing.
According to new research, monthly temperature extremes have become much more frequent, up five times as many record-breaking hot months worldwide than would be expected if we were not experiencing a long-term global warming shift.
In fact, in parts of Europe, Africa, and southern Asia, the number of monthly records has increased by a factor of ten!
The researchers, a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Complutense University of Madrid, concluded that 80 percent of the observed monthly records would not have taken place if not for the impact of anthropogenic warming.
“The last decade brought unprecedented heat waves; for instance in the US in 2012, in Russia in 2010, in Australia in 2009, and in Europe in 2003,” lead-author Dim Coumou says. “Heat extremes are causing many deaths, major forest fires, and harvest losses – societies and ecosystems are not adapted to ever new record-breaking temperatures.”
What is fantastic about this particular study, published in the journal Climate Change, is that it is based on 131 years of monthly temperature data from more than 12,000 grid points across the planet.
The word ‘comprehensive’ is what you’re looking for.
The researchers developed their own robust statistical model that showed just how the number of records match up with the long-term global warming trend, a surge which has been particularly steep over the past 40 years. While there were fluctuations in the data – especially in years with El Niño events – this natural variability does not explain the overall development of record events.
If global warming continues, the study projects that the number of new monthly records will be 12 times as high in 30 years as it would be without climate change. “Now this doesn’t mean there will be 12 times more hot summers in Europe than today – it actually is worse,“ Coumou points out. For the new records set in the 2040s will not just be hot by today’s standards. “To count as new records, they actually have to beat heat records set in the 2020s and 2030s, which will already be hotter than anything we have experienced to date,” explains Coumou. “And this is just the global average – in some continental regions, the increase in new records will be even greater.”
“Statistics alone cannot tell us what the cause of any single heat wave is, but they show a large and systematic increase in the number of heat records due to global warming,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a co-author of the study and co-chair of PIK’s research domain Earth System Analysis. “Today, this increase is already so large that by far most monthly heat records are due to climate change. The science is clear that only a small fraction would have occurred naturally.”