2017, One of the Earth's Top 3 Hottest Years on Record

Sunday, January 21, 2018 - 13:37

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, the UK Met Office, and other groups that monitor the planet's thermostat, announced 2017 as the second-warmest year since reliable record-keeping began in 1880, trailing only 2016.

Global temperatures last year were the third-highest since scientists began keeping records in 1880, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Measurements from NASA placed it even higher, coming in second over the last 138 years.

Both agencies said the average global surface temperature in 2017 was only slightly below the record-high temperature seen in 2016.

Two years ago, the average temperature across land and ocean surfaces jumped 1.69 degrees above the 20th century average of 57 degrees, according to NOAA. It remained high last year, coming in at 1.51 degrees above the previous century’s average.

What made the numbers unexpected was that last year had no El Niño, a shift in tropical Pacific weather patterns that is usually linked to record-setting heat and that contributed to record highs the previous two years. In fact, last year should have benefited from a weak version of the opposite phenomenon, La Niña, which is generally associated with lower atmospheric temperatures.

“This is the new normal,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the NASA group that conducted the analysis. But, he said, “It’s also changing. It’s not that we’ve gotten to a new plateau — this isn’t where we’ll stay. In ten years we’re going to say ‘oh look, another record decade of warming temperatures.’”

Although the NASA and NOAA data announced Thursday have slight statistical differences, they clearly show that global warming continues its climb, scientists said.

“The annual change from year to year can bounce up and down … but the long-term trends are very clear, especially since the mid-20th century,” said Derek Arndt, chief of the monitoring branch of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

The NOAA and NASA analyses both use temperature measurements from weather stations on land and at sea. The analyses differ largely in how they treat the Arctic. In NASA’s method, the region has more of an influence on the overall average.

“It’s startling to know there are individuals on the brink of adulthood who have spent their entire lives in a climate that, largely due to human activity, is vastly different from the one their parents experienced growing up,” said Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a research and advocacy group.


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