According to the World Meteorological Organization, 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded since the 1880s, becoming the third consecutive year to break such record.

So far, 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have taken place after the year 2000, and the last cold year took place way far back in 1911. Yearly temperature is often compared to pre-industrial levels when humans started using fossil fuel during the Industrial Revolution. For 2016, temperatures were an average of 1.1°C or 1.98°F higher compared to such levels.

NOAA, Earth's temperatures
Land & Ocean Temperature Percentiles, December 2016. Image credit: NOAA NCEI

Breaking a not-so-uplifting record

The shameful record is likely due to the Earth’s own ways to regulate its temperature and human activity that has led to a trend of global warming since the year 1970. One of the phenomena that are blamed for the record is the El Niño, due to it being more intense in 2015-16 than in previous occurrences.

But scientists suggest it was the opposite, compared to the 1997-98 El Niño, which was stronger than the recent anomaly. The only redeeming factor about last year’s El Niño is that it was longer lasting. The longevity of the event is believed to have contributed to the unprecedented global warming.

NOAA Scientists
NOAA scientists collecting data. Image credit: NOAA.

The University of Columbia reports that the 12-month running mean temperature peaked at 1.31°C and declined down to 1.26°C.

On the other hand, both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assure that land and arctic temperatures will ensure 2016 will remain as the hottest year on record unless a global effort to shift the scales takes place.

“You’re seeing warmth throughout the world: higher on land than in the ocean, higher in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, higher in the arctic most of all, and patterns that we have grown quite familiar with both in modeling and in observation,” stated the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York at the latest conference hosted by NASA and NOAA concerning global warming.

Initially, NASA and NOAA announced a prediction of 2016 being the warmest year on record, being given a 96 percent probability by NASA and a 62 percent probability by NOAA.

Both organizations use extensive methods and resources to measure global temperature. NASA has ships, sea buoys, balloons, satellites, and research facilities all over the globe to maintain a precise measurement of both sea and land temperatures. NOAA uses similar data but has a different set of estimates for changes in sea temperature, particularly the temperature of the Earth’s poles.

The average for annual Arctic sea-ice extent for 2016 was the lowest ever recorded, being 3.92 million square miles, while the Arctic itself was 7.2°C warmer in 2016 compared to preindustrial times, being labeled as a concerning and large variation.

Scientists point out that, even when El Niño caused an important variation in global temperature, the truth is that 90 percent of the global warming perceived in 2016 was due to human activity. The other 10 percent accounts for solar factors, volcanoes, and every other event that changes the Earth’s temperature through natural causes.

Source: Live Science