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Last month was the warmest January on record. NASA expert explains how new technology will investigate the remarkable warming trend.

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(NEW YORK) — Last month’s global temperatures led to the warmest January on record, continuing a pattern of eight consecutive hottest months on record, according to scientists.

The average surface air temperature on Earth in January was 13.14 degrees Celsius, or 55.65 degrees Fahrenheit — about 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1991 to 2020 average for January and 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit above the previous record, set in January 2020, according to the monthly report released Wednesday by Copernicus, the European Union’s climate change service.

The month as a whole was 1.66 degrees Celsius (or 2.99 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than an estimate of the January average for 1850 to 1900, the designated pre-industrial reference period, the report, which highlights changes observed in global surface air temperature, sea ice cover and hydrological variables, found.

February 2023 through January 2024 was the warmest 12-month stretch on record with the global mean temperature measuring at 1.52 degrees Celsius — or 2.74 degrees Fahrenheit — above the 1850 to 1900 pre-industrial average, according to the researchers. The Paris Agreement, a collective climate change agreement among the majority of the world’s countries, aims to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming since the Industrial Revolution.

A strong El Niño event has been helping to push global temperatures to new highs — even in a month that traditionally sees some of the coldest temperatures in much of the world, according to Copernicus’ report.

“2024 starts with another record-breaking month – not only is it the warmest January on record but we have also just experienced a 12-month period of more than 1.5 [degrees Celsius] above the pre-industrial reference period,” Samantha Burgess, deputy director of Copernicus, said in a statement.

Even with El Niño conditions beginning to weaken, global sea surface temperatures across a majority of the world’s oceans are currently hitting unprecedented levels as marine heatwaves persist around the globe, the report found.

Each day since Jan. 31, global daily sea surface temperatures between the coordinates 60°S and 60°N — which include the majority of the world’s oceans — have been hitting new all-time highs. The average global sea surface temperature for January in this area was 20.97 degrees Celsius (69.75 degrees Fahrenheit), the highest on record for the month. This beat the previous record set in January 2016 by 0.26 degrees Celsius (0.47 degrees Fahrenheit).

These new records beat the previous highest values set just last summer on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24. The last time Earth recorded a colder-than-average year was in 1976, according to NOAA.

The month of January also featured drier-than-average conditions in Australia and Chile. The dry conditions, largely fueled by El Niño, contributed to wildfires that scorched parts of both nations, according to Wednesday’s report.

Along with the El Niño conditions over the equatorial eastern Pacific, greenhouse gas emissions are also playing a role in Earth reaching new global temperature records. The warming will not cease until emissions, which trap the heat that is causing global warming, are drastically reduced, Burgess said.

“Rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are the only way to stop global temperatures from increasing,” Burgess said.

Researchers are trying to figure out why the past eight months have been the hottest by a large margin.

NASA’s newest Earth-observing satellite, called PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem), will help to map aerosols around the globe by putting two polarimeters, measurement instruments, into orbit, Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told ABC News.

The tool will monitor what the aerosols are actually doing and what kind there are — whether they are sea salt, dust from deserts, soot from fires, nitrates from agriculture or sulfates from coal and oil, according to NASA. As aerosols are tracked, researchers will be able to apply them to climate modeling as well, Schmidt said.

Aerosols are not the only variable researchers are working on to understand the recent global heat, Schmidt said, describing the past eight months as a “puzzle.”

“Scientists don’t like puzzles to be left unsolved, so we want to figure it out,” he said.

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