State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Beating Global Heat, But Only By Dumb Luck

Average temperatures, July 2010. Purple to yellow colors are anomalously hot, with purple and brown the hottest; whites and blues are anomalously cool.

After sweltering in New York City’s record temperatures the last couple of months, I recently traveled to the Peruvian Amazon. Oy, I thought.  But instead of entering the mother of all sweat lodges, I found relief; for the most part, it was cooler in those tropical lowlands near the equator than outside my office at the corner of Broadway and 114th Street.

That doesn’t mean one place is balancing the other out. The latest update of monthly global surface temperatures,  covering July, shows that most of the world is hotter than usual for this time of year–and some places are breathtakingly hotter. Just a few areas over the oceans, and land areas such as lower South America and Alaska, were cooler. Right place, right time–for once, I got lucky.

The monthly surface temperature analysis comes from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, an affiliate of the Earth Insititute. Led by GISS director James Hansen, this latest update shows the global average for July was .55 degrees C (TK F) higher than usual. But in some hot spots including eastern Europe–where wildfires continue to ring Moscow and its suburbs–temperatures were more than 5 degrees C (10F) above normal. Among other places, the map shows a big red spot over the U.S. east coast. (Why am I not surprised?)

Although temperature records were broken in a lot of individual places, globally this was not the hottest July recorded; that honor still goes to July 1998. On the other hand: the 12-month global running mean–that is, July 2009 to July 2010–has reached an all-time high. Will 2010 turn out to be the hottest year yet recorded? Too early to say for sure, but Hansen and his coauthors Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato and Kwok-Wai Ken Lo, doubt it.  They say a La Nina event–a cyclic cooling of the Pacific Ocean’s surface now underway–will probably cool things enough that 2010 will be similar to other recent hot years, but not a record, at least when averaged out globally.

That is not much consolation to New Yorkers or Muscovites. Maybe I–and they–should schedule the next trip for north-central Siberia, where there is a cool blue spot on the map, at least for now.

Read the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis for July 2010

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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