January 23, 2011- Nick Engelfried
The world’s three leading scientific bodies that research climate change now all agree 2010 was one of the two warmest years since modern record keeping began. This month the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the UK-based Met Office on climate change each completed independent analyses of the planet’s overall surface temperature in 2010. Though the findings of the different researcher bodies differ slightly, all three are in agreement that last year was one of the warmest ever due to human activities causing climate change.
As economies continue to burn fossil fuels the planet’s warming is predicted to increase. “If the warming trend continues as expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not stand for long,” said Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
In 2010 climate researchers gathered data collected at hundreds of weather record stations around the world, and combined this information with ocean temperature records captured by satellites. In this way they gained as accurate a portrait as possible of the average temperature of the Earth. NASA and NOAA concluded 2010 had tied with 2005 for the title of warmest year on record, with 1998 ranking a close second. The Met Office still considers 1998 the warmest year, with 2010 coming in second.
These differences may be due to the slightly different ways researchers estimate global temperature, and underscore the complexities involved in trying to assign a single average temperature measurement to the Earth. However almost every year since 1998 has been exceptionally warm, and the decade from 2000 through 2009 is the warmest on record. According to NASA, 2010 was 1.34 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the planet’s average temperature between 1951 and 1980.
“The three leading global temperature datasets show that 2010 is clearly warmer than 2009,” said Dr. Adam Scaife of the Met Office. “They also show that 2010 is the warmest or second warmest year on record.”
2010 broke another kind of weather record as well: NOAA researchers say the world experienced more rainfall than in any year since record keeping began. Unfortunately some of this rain came in the form of massive floods in countries like Pakistan and Australia. This kind of flooding, ironically interspersed with periods of long drought, is one of the types of impact climate scientists have long predicted would occur as the world grows warmer.
Other notable weather events in 2010 that might have been tied to climate change included large numbers of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, and a strong jet stream wind current that contributed to both the Pakistan floods and a severe summer heat wave in Russia. There were nineteen named tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2010, including twelve hurricanes. By fortunate coincidence no major storm hit a highly populated area in the United States, but it was the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. Meanwhile in the Arctic, sea ice near the pole melted to the third-lowest level recorded, ranking behind only 2007 and 2008.
Of course the overall warm temperatures in 2010 don’t mean every country had a similar experience. Parts of the world like the eastern United States and Britain actually had a colder, snowier year than usual. This local and regional variation again emphasizes the complications involved in trying the get an accurate picture of global temperature. To decipher long-term climate trends, it is necessary to look beyond local weather patterns and take into account the temperature data from all over the globe.
Similarly global temperatures will always vary from year to year, and there’s no guarantee yet that 2011 will turn out to be a record breaker. However climate scientists have clearly identified an overall trend of global warming. The latest studies from NASA, NOAA, and the Met Office simply confirm that in 2010 this pattern well-established pattern continued.
Photo credit: Matt and Kim Rudge