Image Source: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

New analysis released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has shown 2016 to have been the warmest year measured, since records commenced in 1880.

Average temperatures throughout 2016 were almost a full degree warmer than the long-term average, with a temperature anomaly of 0.99 degrees Celsius. 2016 is the third consecutive year where a new record average temperature has been set, following record setting years in each of 2014 and 2015.

“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Director Gavin Schmidt said.

“We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”

In setting a new record, high average temperatures were observed throughout most of 2016. Eight of the twelve months in 2016 set new monthly records. Each of the months in 2016 between January and September, with the sole exception being June, were the warmest on record for each of the respective months.

The 2016 temperature record continues the established global warming trend with NASA estimating global temperatures have increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, driven largely by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, along with other human-made greenhouse gas emissions.

When agreeing to take coordinated action on climate change under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to work towards limiting temperature increases due to global warming to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with ambitions of limiting it to no more than 1.5 degrees.

The warming trend has been particularly strong for the last 35-years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.

In announcing its analysis, NASA’s Gavin Schmidt highlighted the impacts that higher global temperatures have had on the formation of ice in the globe’s polar regions. 2016 saw Arctic sea ice extent fall to their lowest levels on record, with Antarctic Sea ice falling to their second lowest level.  

Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University, and a member of the Climate Council highlighted that the impacts of globally warm years are experienced in all regions.

“Record breaking heat was evident worldwide. North America had its hottest year on record, while Asia experienced its warmest January – October on record. India’s heatwaves were particularly severe with temperatures reaching a staggering 51°C in Phalodi.”

“2016’s extremely warm temperatures drove dramatic and unprecedented impacts, including the worst coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef’s history, an unparalleled large-scale mangrove dieback in northern Australia, a major algae bloom in the Murray River, and devastating bushfires in Tasmania’s World Heritage forests” he said.

Warm temperatures in early 2016 were intensified by a continuation of the 2015/16 El Niño event. While 2016 would likely still have been the warmest year on record even in its absence, the El Niño event increased the annual global temperature anomaly for 2016 by 0.12 degrees Celsius.

El Niño events are associated with a stream of warm water that spans the central Pacific Ocean, contributing to warmer global temperatures and changes to rainfall dynamics. During El Niño events, there are generally reduced rainfalls over Australia and Indonesia, while rainfall is higher over South America.

The global temperature announcement from NASA and NOAA forms the first of three independent assessments that inform an official declaration by the World Meteorological Organisation. With the announcement by NASA and NOAA to be joined by matching assessments from the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the UK’s Met Office, the four agencies combine to provide the authoritative assessment of global temperatures.

Provisional figures from the UK Met office also found that 2016 was the warmest year on record.

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