The earth was on fire last year (in case you forgot), with a record Wildfires on the west coast, Siberian heat waves, and Atlantic hurricanes. Now government scientists have analyzed the numbers behind the planetary chaos.
NASA just released its annual report on annual temperatures, and it says 2020 topped or equaled 2016 as the hottest year on record. A similar announcement from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) differed slightly, saying 2020 came in second or third. The two agencies presented their results Thursday at a virtual town hall at a meeting of the American Meteorological Society. The two agencies published their findings together, although they used slightly different methods to calculate their results.
New federal data shows the Earth’s atmosphere has now warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times and adds another 0.2 degrees C (0.36 F) per decade. At this rate, researchers expect global temperatures to exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius limit set by the 2015 Paris Climate by 2030. “I don’t think there is much going to happen that will change that, except for a massive volcano,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which published the atmospheric data with NOAA. (Dust and ash particles from erupting volcanoes can reflect sunlight and have a cooling effect on the atmosphere, albeit temporary.)
At the same time, a separate group of American, Chinese and Italian climatologists reported this week that the world’s oceans reached record heat in 2020. The study showed that the oceans absorbed 20 zettajoules (1021 joules) more heat than in 2019, and they contain the highest thermal content since records began in 1955. The total amount of increased ocean warming during the year is 61 times the entire electricity produced around the world at the same time, according to Kevin Trenberth, author of the study. This heat was absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and fed the Pacific Ocean “super typhoons, ” intense rainy events in the United States and the changes marine ecosystems such as harmful algal blooms and the stranding of baby seals. This study, in the journal Advances in atmospheric science, collected measurements from moored ocean buoys, floating dinghies and on-board instruments.
Scientists who have worked on both atmospheric and ocean studies say human-produced carbon emissions are to blame and the warming is due to the burning of coal, oil and natural gas. “The main cause of the warming that we have seen is the increase in greenhouse gases,” says Schmidt. “Almost all of the trends in this period are attributable to human activity.”
In their atmospheric report, the two federal agencies said that the six hottest years on record on the planet have been the six years since 2015. The ten hottest years have all occurred since 2005. “Let a year be a record or not, it doesn’t really matter, ”Schmidt said. “The important things are long term trends. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we can expect records to continue to be broken. “
In 2020, the United States also broke records for the number of storms that caused at least $ 1 billion in damage, including 22 weather disasters. The previous record was 16 disasters in 2011 and 2017.
In 2010, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change urged the world’s nations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050. In 2015, this figure has changed. the same panel said the goal would be to “keep the increase in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to continue efforts to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. ” Many climatologists now say that either goal is unlikely to be met. While industrial emissions slightly decreased in 2020 following the pandemicslowing global climate change is not enough, the authors said.