For the previous three years in a row, the Earth set a new heat record as the warmest year in 2016. Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found on Wednesday, the average temperature around the planet in 2016 had the highest globally averaged temperature over ocean and land surfaces since climate observations began in 1880. NOAA calculated that the average 2016 surface temperatures were 0.94 degrees Celsius (1.69 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century average of 58.69 degrees Fahrenheit (14.84 degrees Celsius). This new record beats last year’s record-setting temperature by 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit (0.04 Celsius).
— NOAA (@NOAA) January 18, 2017
NOAA notes that this record has been broken five times in the 21st century that the globe has set a new annual global temperature record. Records have been set in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010 and 2005. Temperatures spiked to new national highs in parts of India, Kuwait and Iran, while ocean ice slid and melted faster than ever in the fragile Arctic and Antarctica, said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who held a joint press conference on Wednesday morning (Jan. 18) at 11 a.m. EDT (4 p.m. GMT) to unveil their report on the changing climate in the previous year (2016).
— NASA GISS (@NASAGISS) January 18, 2017
“This was the third year in a row in our analysis to set a new record,” Deke Arndt, chief of the global monitoring branch at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, North Carolina, told reporters yesterday. Arndt is suggesting that this is a clear indication of a global warming trend that began in the late 20th century. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes,” he added.
U.S. space agency NASA, The World Meteorological Organization and other international weather monitoring groups separately confirmed the news (extreme warming). They agreed that 2016 was the hottest year on record, with the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organisation chief Petteri Taalas saying “long-term indicators of human-caused climate change reached new heights in 2016” referring to rising levels of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and other greenhouse gases like CH4 (methane).
The global warming trend over the past few decades can be linked to the burning fossil fuels, oil, coal and gas that releases “greenhouse” gases, such as carbon dioxide nitrous oxide, ozone and methane, into the atmosphere, actually the most significant greenhouse gas is water vapour. These gases in an atmosphere, absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range and have caused the Earth’s temperature to rise over the past century.
“Though some years will be warmer than others, the overall trend over multiple decades will inevitably be upward as long of concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere keep increasing,” said Gerald Meehl, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
— NOAA (@NOAA) January 18, 2017
In 2015 and 2016, the planetary warming lifted both by man-made greenhouse gases and a natural El Niño (a climate cycle characterized by unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) event that released a huge burst of energy and water vapour into the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean last year, beat the previous record in 2015, when 200 nations agreed a plan to limit global warming. A press release from NASA accompanying Wednesday’s announcement said researchers have found that most of the warming in 2016 was due to El Niño, which increased the annual global temperature anomaly for 2016 by a half-a-degree Fahrenheit (0.12 degrees Celsius).
The fact that El Niño has now ended, that spanned 2015 and 2016 contributed to the extreme temperatures, but the vast majority of the warming (about 90 percent) was due to human activity (human-caused global warming), mainly through the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
“This is a very clear record that we’re seeing. It is driven mainly by changes in the tropical Pacific where we had an El Niño event that produced a lot of warmth. But we’ve also seen long term trends in warming mostly due to the increasing greenhouse gases.” said Dr. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
2016 was a record in all surface data sets pic.twitter.com/25aQKrOQqb
— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) January 18, 2017
Another factor that has affected temperatures in 2016 is the unusual warmth in the Arctic and Antarctica. The two poles (the north pole region and the south pole region) are also feeling the heat. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, an estimate of the average annual sea-ice extent in 2016 in the Arctic was the lowest annual average on record: 10.1 million square kilometres (3.92 million square miles).
Temperatures in the Arctic were especially pervasive this year and sometimes it reached to extreme 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. In November, the World Meteorological Organization reported that temperatures from January until September of 2016 were 1.58 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average from 1961 to 1990 around the world. Even at current temperatures, billions of tons of land ice are melting or sliding into the ocean. The sea is also absorbing most of the heat trapped by human emissions.
The Arctic “was enormously warm (almost 7.2 degrees F or 4 degrees C warmer in 2016 than it was in preindustrial times), like totally off the charts compared to everything else.” according to Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a unit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that tracks global temperatures. Schmidt said, “What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart.”
In 2016, North America had its warmest year on record while South America and Africa reaching second-hottest yearly records. Europe and Asia each saw their third hottest years on record, while Australia had its fifth. On May 19, the people of Phalodi in Rajasthan (India) lived through the hottest day, which reached 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 C), marking India’s hottest temperature ever.
Looking ahead, researchers say that 2017 will likely be a “top five” warm year for the planet.