It’s official: Two independent studies from two federal government agencies have declared 2015 as the hottest year since a record of global temperatures was first taken in 1880.
The finding was released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Japan Meteorological Agency and Britain’s weather watchers are both expected to arrive at the same conclusion, the New York Times reported.
Following the declaration that 2015 is the hottest year on record, scientists stressed that the data is a pretty compelling boost to the argument that climate change is a reality.
“Climate change is the challenge of our generation, and NASA’s vital work on this important issue affects every person on Earth,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement, according to CBS News. “Today’s announcement … is a key data point that should make policy makers stand up and take notice — now is the time to act on climate.”
Both agencies found that last year was 0.23 degrees hotter than the year before. That may not seem like a lot, but the last time a new record has been that much more than the old record was in 1998. The data was released with a 94 percent certainty.
Scientists have long predicted that 2015 would be one of the hottest on record due to a particularly strong El Niño. The weather pattern has been the largest in 100 years and pumped tons of heat from the Pacific into the atmosphere.
But that’s not the whole picture. Since the late 19th century, the planet’s average surface temperature has gone up 1.8 degrees. Of the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them have hit the books since 2001. Most of the Earth’s global warming has occurred in the past 35 years.
According to scientists, the hard fact is that climate change is driving these records, and the driver behind them are man-made emissions. Gavin Schmidt, with NASA, explained that long-term trends made 2015 one of the hottest. This trend will only continue into 2016, which could be worse.
“This… really is just emphasizing the fact that there is a very, very strong long-term trend in temperature that we have associated very strongly with the human emissions of greenhouse gases. While one degree might not mean very much to you basically on a daily cycle, it really gets noticed by the planet and the systems on the planet.”
Since the last strong El Niño in 1998, this warming trend had a bit of a slump. Since then, warming slowed, but these back-to-back records may be a sign that we’re heating up again — and quickly. The slowdown was likely a fluke caused by temporary conditions and not evidence that climate change “stopped in 1998,” Schmidt noted.
“Is there any evidence for a pause in the long-term global warming rate? The answer is no.”
Here’s another piece of evidence to suggest that the hottest year on record is a sign of a greater and threatening trend: Scientist Michael Mann determined that if this ongoing heat wasn’t caused by climate change, the odds of the Earth sweating under two consecutive “hottest year” records would be about one chance per every 1,500 pairs of years.
If one accepts that the cause is, in fact, global warming, the odds are one chance in 10.
“We actually anticipate that 2016 might also be (very hot), and that will be the first time that we’ve had three… in a row,” Schmidt added. “When (we) first started talking about global warming, it was in 1988. 1988 was also a record year. But … now, 1988 is not even in the top 20 of warmest years.”
The data comes just after talks in Paris, where world representatives in 195 countries agreed to curb carbon emissions.