According to a report published last Wednesday, scientists have concluded that Earth reached its highest surface temperatures ever recorded in 2016. Temperatures beat a record set the year before, which in turn beat a record set in 2014. This represents the first time in recorded data that records have been overturned for three years in a row. Most alarming of all, the data was published just two days ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, after he claimed during his campaign that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by China, and vowed to overturn Obama’s robust climate change legacy.
Most scientists have long agreed that temperatures are rising to a point that will eventually threaten the environment and civilization, with rising sea levels and extreme weather already posing problems.
Temperatures in 2015 and 2016 were also influence by the El Nino weather pattern, with its release of energy and water vapor into the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean. However, rising temperatures those years were also part of a long-term trend towards an increasingly warm planet, fueled by rising emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
According to Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
“A single warm year is something of a curiosity. It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”
The Arctic saw especially dramatic temperature increases, including autumn temperatures that ran 20 to 30 degrees warmer than normal in parts of Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in the Arctic is already on the decline, causing problems such as coastal erosion for Arctic populations. Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said:
“What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart.”
Other parts of the world have also seen record-breaking heat. Parts of Africa faced drought and starvation, while Phalodi, a town in Rajasthan, India, saw the hottest record temperatures in Indian history, reaching 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA’s data indicated that Earth’s temperatures had increased by over half a degree Fahrenheit between 2013 and 2016, marking an immense increase in just three years – the largest in NASA’s records, which go back to 1880.
Besides surface measurements, data is taken from satellites that measure the temperature of the atmosphere near the surface.
Of 17 of the hottest years in recorded history, 16 have occurred since the year 2000.