Image: Earth simulator
Data released on Thursday shows that March 2016 was the warmest March since at least 1891, making it the planet's 11th consecutive month to set a global temperature milestone...
The data, from the Japan Meteorological Agency, as well as a separate analysis using computer model data, means that if April also sets a monthly record, the Earth will have had an astonishing 12 month string of record-shattering months.
Other agencies will soon weigh in with their own analysis of March's temperatures, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office, and their figures may differ slightly in ranking the month compared to the historical record.
The cause of the record warmth, scientists say, is a combination of a record strong El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean and the increasingly apparent effects of long-term human-caused global warming.
The world was already setting more and more warm temperature records without the El Niño's assistance, but what El Niño has done was dial up the already elevated temperatures to damaging levels.
Right now, scientists around the world are witnessing the effects of this global fever. These include the third and longest-lasting global coral bleaching event, which is harming — and in some cases, killing — reefs from the Great Barrier Reef to the Florida Keys.
In the Arctic, Greenland commenced its melt season more than one month early when a freak heat wave swept in earlier this week, sending temperatures skyrocketing into the low 60s Fahrenheit in southwest Greenland and breaking records all the way to the top of the ice sheet itself, more than 10,000 feet above sea level.
In addition, Arctic sea ice set a record for the lowest winter maximum extent, potentially setting the ice pack up for a summer melt season with a largely open Arctic Ocean, depending on transient weather conditions.
Global average surface temperature anomalies for March 2016, based on the Climate Forecast System (CFSR).Image: Weatherbell analytics
According to the JMA, the global average surface temperature in March was 0.62 degrees Celsius, or 1.16 degrees Fahrenheit, above the 1981-2010 average.
When measured against the 20th century average, though, the month looks even more unusual, at 1.07 degrees Celsius, or 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit, above average.
The record warm March follows the most two most unusually warm months on record, which occurred in January and February.
The El Niño event is now fading, with a climate forecast issued Thursday showing a likelihood of a La Niña episode in the tropical Pacific Ocean beginning in the late summer or fall.
La Niña events tend to temporarily dampen global average temperatures since they feature unusually chilly ocean waters across a large swath of the tropical Pacific. This likely means that the string of record-shattering months may soon come to a temporary end.
While March's record is noteworthy, for climate scientists it is the longer-term trends that matter most, not an arbitrarily defined calendar period.
Whether one looks at a 12-month running average, 5-year average, or 30-year trends, all show stark increases in global average surface temperatures, which scientists have concluded is largely attributable to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.