Earth’s 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78ºF (0.99ºC) warmer than the mid-20th century average. This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.
The 2016 temperatures continue a long-term warming trend, according to analyses by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.
Because weather station locations and measurement practises change over time, there are uncertainties in the interpretation of specific year-to-year global mean temperature differences. However, even taking this into account, NASA estimates 2016 was the warmest year “with greater than 95% certainty.”
“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” GISS director Gavin Schmidt said.
“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 2.0ºF (1.1ºC) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.
Phenomena such as El Niño or La Niña, which warm or cool the upper tropical Pacific Ocean and cause corresponding variations in global wind and weather patterns, contribute to short-term variations in global average temperature.
A warming El Niño event was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016. Researchers estimate the direct impact of the natural El Niño warming in the tropical Pacific increased the annual global temperature anomaly for 2016 by 0.2ºF (0.12ºC).
The European Commission’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) also published data at the beginning of the month confirming 2016 as the warmest year on record, nearly 0.2ºC warmer than 2015.
It also said global temperatures reached a peak in February 2016 around 1.5°C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution.
“We are already seeing around the globe the impacts of a changing climate,” Copernicus Services Juan Garcés de Marcilla said
“Land and sea temperatures are rising along with sea-levels, while the world’s sea-ice extent, glacier volume and snow cover are decreasing; rainfall patterns are changing and climate-related extremes such as heatwaves, floods and droughts are increasing in frequency and intensity for many regions.
“The future impact of climate change will depend on the effort we make now, in part achieved by better sharing of climate knowledge and information.”