Global Heat Threepeat
January 19, 2017
Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.
The findings come two days before the inauguration of an American president who has called global warming a Chinese plot and vowed to roll back his predecessor’s efforts to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.
In reality, the Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.
In 2015 and 2016, the planetary warming was intensified by the weather pattern known as El Niño, in which the Pacific Ocean released a huge burst of energy and water vapor into the atmosphere. But the bigger factor in setting the records was the long-term trend of rising temperatures, which scientists say is being driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The Chinese exercise more power over the climate than we thought.
More from new EPA designate. Scott Pruitt, who, to his credit, admits his boss is full of shit.
The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in that region has been in precipitous decline for years, and Arctic communities are already wrestling with enormous problems, such as rapid coastal erosion, caused by the changing climate.
“What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a unit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that tracks global temperatures.
But Arctic people were hardly alone in feeling the heat. Drought and starvation afflicted Africa. On May 19, the people in the town of Phalodi lived through the hottest day in the recorded history of India, 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
El Niño has now ended, and climate scientists almost universally expect 2017 to be cooler than the year before. But the scale of the heat burst has been startling to many of the experts, and some of them fear an accelerated era of global warming could be at hand over the next few years.
Part of the amazing heat this year came from a large el Nino event that spread over 2015-16.
The 1998 El Niño, for example, pushed global temperatures to record levels as well, but that’s nothing compared to what was experienced in 2016. There’s something else at work—namely, human-caused global warming. “This [latest] El Niño might have contributed about a quarter or a third” of the record in 2016, said Arndt, adding that “it’s not a factor in the overall long term trend.”
Looking ahead to 2017, the cooling trend known as La Niña could mean that a fourth consecutive year of temperature records won’t happen. Climate skeptics may use this as an opportunity to say that global warming isn’t real, but “people are savvy enough to see how transparent that is,” said Arndt. The researchers predict that 2017 won’t be a record-breaker, but they’re confident it’ll be a “top five year.
During the press conference, the NASA and NOAA researchers underscored the importance of focusing on the big picture, and not just the recent three-year trend. “We tend to focus on the previous year, but as far as what’s important moving forward, it’s the long term trend that’s the most relevant,” said Arndt.
The incoming Trump administration would be wise to acknowledge this report. Troublingly, the President-elect, through cabinet picks like Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson—both climate skeptics—hints at a very environment-unfriendly White House.