It’s official — 2016 is the warmest year on record

Climate data show steady pace of global warming

amaps
A NASA map shows the pattern of global warming in 2016.

Staff Report

For the third year in a row, the average global temperature climbed to a new record in 2016, reaching 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average, according to the most recent state of the climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

During a conference announcing the new data, federal scientists said they can confidently  determine that Earth is now in its warmest era since about 125,000 years ago, during a break between ice ages, and there’s no sign that the warmup will stop anytime soon.

The climate trackers said they expect that 2017 will end up being slightly cooler than 2016, but is still likely to be one of the five warmest years on record.

“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year – from January through September, with the exception of June – were the warmest on record for those respective months. October, November, and December of 2016 were the second warmest of those months on record – in all three cases, behind records set in 2015.

The scientists said the recent spike was helped by the naturally occurring El Niño climate cycle, but that the long-term warming trend is clearly driven by increasing greenhouse gases.

It’s the 40th year in a row that the annual global temperature has been above the 20th century average, the fifth time that a new record has been set in the relatively young 21st century, and to date, all 16 years in the 21st century are ranked about the 17 warmest on record. The five warmest years have all occurred since 2010.

Overall, the globe’s annual temperature has climbed at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, but at a rate of 0.31 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970.

And most of the heat being trapped by thickening greenhouse gas pollution isn’t even showing up in atmospheric readings because 90 percent of the energy the Earth is gaining is going into the oceans, which ensures that Earth will keep warming for many centuries to come, even if greenhouse gas emissions are cut immediately.

2016 featured eight months in a row of record high temps, and the last four months of the year were all among the top five. In part due to El Niño, the new global heat record is because the oceans were so warm in 2016. The powerful El Niño early in the year led to some of the highest monthly global ocean temperatures on record, with January, February, March, April, June, July and August all ranking among the 12 warmest of all months in the 137-year record.January, February, and March each observed a monthly temperature at least 0.8°C (1.4°F) above average.

Even with the cooler La Niña Pacific phase later in the year, the average global ocean temperature stayed warm, with the December reading coming in at (1.10 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

The warmest ocean regions included the northern Pacific near Alaska and the Bering Sea, as well as parts of the western Atlantic, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, all areas where the warmth led to extensive damage to coral reefs. The only ocean area with record cold temperatures was east of the Drake Passage near the Antarctic Peninsula, an area that has been much cooler than average since late 2013.

For Europe, 2016 was the third-warmest year, behind 2014 and 2015. Asia observed its third warmest year on record, behind 2015 (record warmest) and 2007 (second warmest).

The African continent observed its second warmest year, behind only 2015, while Oceania had its fifth warmest year on record, behind 2013, 2005. 2014, and 2009.

Info compiled from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for Annual 2016. Read the full report: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201613.

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