The year 2016 was the warmest year since records were first kept in the 1880s, marking the third straight year world temperatures had reached an all-time high. Once again, climate change was blamed as the primary cause for this continuing trend, with the El Nino phenomenon also driving temperatures upwards.
In a joint press conference held on Wednesday, NOAA and NASA announced that 2016 was the third consecutive year global temperatures reached record highs. NOAA added even more disturbing statistics, noting that 16 of the hottest years since the start of record-keeping over a century ago had taken place in the 21st century. And, as CNN added, the last time Earth had a coldest-ever year was more than 100 years ago – in 1911.
The World Meteorological Organization’s data shows that 2016 became the warmest year, as temperatures across the globe were 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit higher than pre-industrial averages. That’s very close to the 1.5-degree threshold set at 2015’s Paris Climate Agreement, and a cause of major concern for experts, who have blamed greenhouse gas pollution for the continued global warming trend. Greenhouse gases are created by the destruction of rainforests and the burning of fossil fuels.
According to Earth Science Center director Michael Mann, humans are responsible mainly for greenhouse gas-related climate change warming the Earth’s temperatures. And it’s these human-driven actions that may also lead to more extreme weather events.
“The spate of record-warm years that we have seen in the 21st century can only be explained by human-caused climate change. The effect of human activity on our climate is no longer subtle. It’s plain as day, as are the impacts — in the form of record floods, droughts, superstorms, and wildfires — that it is having on us and our planet.”
The three straight years in which global temperatures set new world records was the second time this happened since 1939, 1940, and 1941, with 1941 nonetheless standing as the 37th-warmest year on record. In addition, NASA’s statistics and models hint that Earth had warmed by about half a degree Fahrenheit over the three-year span from 2013 to 2016. Half a degree might not sound like much, but the New York Times wrote that that represents a “huge change” over such a short period of time. This is also the largest jump in temperature over a three-year period since the 1880s.
The New York Times wrote that 2015 and 2016 became the warmest years ever because of the El Nino phenomenon, which happens when the Pacific Ocean warms the atmosphere with bursts of energy and water vapor. And with the most recent round of El Nino over, climate scientists cited by the New York Times believe that 2017 may break the trend and become cooler than 2016 was. But climate change and the continued flow of greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere may still bring some global warming, and there’s a good chance the current year may still be in the top five in terms of hottest global temperatures, according to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies director Gavin Schmidt.
This was a forecast shared by National Center for Atmospheric Research senior scientist Gerald Meehl, who believes that greenhouse gas pollution may keep on playing a part in global warming in the coming decades.
“Though some years will be warmer than others, the overall trend over multiple decades will inevitably be upward as long of concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere keep increasing.”
Although 2017 might not follow in the footsteps of 2016 as the all-time warmest year in history, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that carbon dioxide releases may eventually push temperatures two degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial age averages. This may, as mentioned above, lead to weather events such as droughts, rising sea levels, as well as massive animal extinctions in certain parts of the globe.
[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]