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2015's record heat led to wilder weather, more glacial melt, struggling marine life

The planet continues to break heat records, painting a grim picture. Marine life is particularly feeling the heat, and the rising temperatures have contributed to major weather events, including typhoons, hurricanes and flooding.

Natural El Nino phenomenon added more heat to already warming climate

A girl cools off in the waters of the Ganges River during a hot summer morning in Allahabad, India, last May, where temperatures reached 46 C, and stayed high for days. (Jitendra Prakash/Reuters)

The warming planet continues to break heat records, contributing to wilder weather and more challenging environments for marine life.

The latest annual checkup from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2015 paints a grim picture.

Among the report's highlights are that air and ocean temperatures are getting warmer, with a powerful El Nino adding fuel to the fire. 

The temperatures have contributed to an increase in heat waves and other major weather events, including typhoons and hurricanes. And these changes are also dealing a heavy blow to coral reefs and marine animals. 

Here's a rundown of some of the NOAA report's key findings.

Extreme heat

Temperatures in 2015 broke the previously smashed records from 2014 — it was the hottest year in 136 years of record keeping.

A heat wave in Pakistan and India contributed to the deaths of thousands of people as temperatures climbed above 40 C in some parts of those countries.

A flower seller takes a nap at a marketplace on a hot summer day in Calcutta during last year's heat wave. (Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters)

The record high for India was set in May when the temperature reached 51 C in the city of Phalodi.

Europe also underwent a massive heat wave — London had its hottest July day on record, reaching 36.7 C.

Last August in Chipiona, Spain, locals and tourists alike flocked to a beach in an attempt to escape the heat wave. (Marcelo del Pozo/Reuters)

Faster glacial melt

The poles are seeing some of the most dramatic changes due to the warming sea and air temperatures.

Signs of the warming can be seen in glaciers, which have been melting for decades, but some of the most dramatic changes were seen in the Greenland ice sheet, more than half of which had reached a melting point in 2015.

And the Zachariae Isstrom glacier separated from the bedrock it had been frozen to and is beginning to slide into the ocean. 

Glaciers have been melting for decades, but in 2015 the melting in Greenland accelerated, according to the report by NOAA. (Bob Strong/Reuters)

Penguins, walruses suffer from heat

The heat is affecting more than just the ice sheets and glaciers. 

The population of the Adélie penguin in Antarctica has plummeted to its lowest level on record. (Pauline Askin/Reuters)

The report states that a loss of sea ice in the Antarctic, particularly around the Bellingshausen Sea, is taking its toll on penguins. The population of the Adélie penguin has crashed to its lowest level. There were about 10,000 breeding pairs in the population in the early '90s, and now there are less than half that number, according to the report.

In the Northern Hemisphere, walruses are also feeling the heat.

Thousands of walruses are gathered on a beach near the village of Point Lay, Alaska. This kind of grouping of Pacific walruses has been prompted by a lack of sea ice, which the animals use to rest on. (Corey Accardo/Reuters)

The animals mate along the ice edges in the winter and give birth on sea ice in the spring. They also often rest on the sea ice. But with that ice shrinking, the animals have been resting on the shoreline. The report says this has resulted in calf fatalities "due to overcrowding and trampling." 

Overcrowded groupings of walruses on land can cause calf fatalities due to trampling, says the report. (Fabian Bimmer/Reuters)

El Nino and the 'Pacific Blob'

​El Nino, the natural phenomenon that produces warmer temperatures every few years, has proven to be an exacerbating factor in the overall warming climate. 

It has likely contributed to the stubborn "Pacific Blob," a mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean.

Warming has contributed to a toxic Pacific algae bloom alongside the west coast of the U.S. and Canada. (Washington State Department of Ecology Marine Monitoring Unit)

This mass of warm water has likely led to a large toxic algae bloom in the region. The ribbon of algae reached a size of up to 64 kilometres wide and 198 metres deep, stretching from the coast of California to Alaska.

While the blob has begun to dissipate, some scientists say it's not going away soon — it's just going deeper.

Coral death watch

In some parts of the Pacific Ocean, the coral on the sea floor looks like "a ghost town," according to University of Victoria coral reef scientist Julia Baum. 

Dying Pocillopora, or cauliflower coral, is seen on the sea floor around the island of Kiritimati in the Pacific Ocean. (Danielle Claar/University of Victoria via Associated Press)

The coral around the island of Kiritimati has been on its highest level of alert for stress since June 2015. 

Mark Eakin from NOAA called the coral death there "gruesome." 

Much of the coral near Kiritimati is dead, overgrown with algae on the sea floor. (Danielle Claar/University of Victoria via Associated Press)

He said that more than a third of the world's coral reefs are under an official death watch. The reefs just can't survive when the water is so warm.

And the Australian coral reefs have been suffering for years — some of the reefs are completely "snow white," according to Terry Hughes, from the country's National Coral Bleaching Task Force.

The combined image shows before and after images of coral bleaching and death at Lizard Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The photo on the left was taken in March 2016, while the photo on the right was taken two months later, in May 2016. (Associated Press)

Coral can survive mild or short-term bleaching and recover, but not if it goes on for too long or is too severe.

Wilder weather

The year 2015 not only broke temperature records, but also spawned more hurricanes and cyclones during the 12 months since records have been kept.

NOAA says there were more tropical cyclones in 2015, and more powerful hurricanes occurred at the same time in the central Pacific hurricane basin. The fact that there were three Category 4 hurricanes at the same time "was a first, not just for the central Pacific basin, but for any basin during the modern record," stated the report.

A satellite image shows a record-breaking trio of strong Pacific hurricanes Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena on Aug. 31, 2015. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Unfortunately, we won't likely get a break from the challenges brought on by warming temperatures — 2016 is set to continue the trend and break 2015's record.

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