The year 2020 was notable for a number of reasons, but here is another: it was the hottest year since records began, according to NASA.
Capping a long-term warming trend, the average global temperature was slightly more than 1 degrees Celsius warmer than the baseline mean between 1951 and 1980, which means that last year was marginally warmer than the previous record holder: 2016.
According to a separate analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which used the same data but a different methodology and baseline period (between 1901 and 2000), 2020 was the second warmest year on their record, slightly behind 2016. Scientists at NOAA also did not infer temperatures in polar regions, which is why the results are slightly different.
However, in 2016 a prominent El Nino effect influenced global temperatures in an upward trajectory and a similar effect was lacking last year. “The lack of a similar assist from El Nino this year is evidence that the background climate continues to warm due to greenhouse gases,” observes Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS.
The conclusion is that manmade activities were the primary cause of the warming trend registered throughout last year.
“Tracking global temperature trends provides a critical indicator of the impact of human activities – specifically, greenhouse gas emissions – on our planet. Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.2 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century,” explain scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
As global temperatures rise, several weather phenomena such as tropical storms and heat waves are becoming stronger and increasingly erratic. Polar ice sheers continue to melt, rising sea level worldwide, while wildlife-rich ecosystems are also coming under increased heat stress.
“Understanding such long-term climate trends is essential for the safety and quality of human life, allowing humans to adapt to the changing environment in ways such as planting different crops, managing our water resources and preparing for extreme weather events,” NASA says.
That is why it is extremely troubling that “the last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend,” Schmidt says.
“Whether one year is a record or not is not really that important – the important things are long-term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken,” he explains.
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