WASHINGTON – 2015 shattered the record for Earth’s warmest year by a large margin, according to new data released Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It’s quite a large separation from the previous record,” Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville, N.C., said.
The previous record, set last year, was about a quarter of a degree cooler. Before 2014, the average annual temperature increase was about a hundredth of a degree.
Each month of 2015 smashed the corresponding month’s previous temperature data since record keeping began in 1880, except for January and April.
Although 2015 signaled the start of an El Niño, scientists at NASA and NOAA didn’t start seeing the effects of the phenomenon until later in the year.
El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns, typically lasting nine to 12 months that follow variations of temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. An El Niño is usually associated with a warm phase, and a La Niña is usually linked to a cold phase, according to NOAA.
“Even without the El Niño, this would have been the warmest year on record,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “The El Niño pushed it way over the top.”
“El Niño is a very complicated phenomenon,” Schmidt said. “The jury is still out on whether climate change has affected Niño.”
Climate change has become a hot button issue in the past two years. World leaders meet in Paris in December to discuss policies that will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted worldwide. President Barack Obama has taken steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions, while some politicians say they don’t believe human actions have anything to do with climate change. Scientists expect 2016 to be warmer than 2015, with the estimated stronger effects of El Niño hitting multiple layers of the atmosphere.
“It’s really not an ‘if,’” Schmidt said. “This trend will continue.”
Fifteen of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, according to Goddard scientists.
“If you were going to be betting, it would be that 2016 would be even warmer,” Karl said. “There’s no evidence that the trend has slowed over the past four to five decades.”
The U.S. recorded its second warmest year in 2015, while also claiming its third wettest year. Asia, South America, Spain and Finland all recorded their warmest years on record.
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