Though it might be hard to believe right now since the Northern Hemisphere is currently experiencing the coldest part of winter, our average global temperatures are increasing at a worrying rate. NASA and NOAA have analyzed the data independently of one another and yet have arrived at the same conclusion: 2014 is the warmest year on record since 1880. This is the 38th consecutive year with above average surface temperatures. The dataset has been released by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
“NASA is at the forefront of the scientific investigation of the dynamics of the Earth’s climate on a global scale,” NASA’s John Grunsfeld said in a press release. “The observed long-term warming trend and the ranking of 2014 as the warmest year on record reinforces the importance for NASA to study Earth as a complete system, and particularly to understand the role and impacts of human activity.”
Surface temperatures in 2014 averaged 0.8° C (1.4° F) warmer than 1880. This doesn’t mean that 1880 was a particularly hot year; it’s just where the instrumental record begins. It might not seem like a significant increase, but it can have an incredible impact on the environment. This increase has been largely attributed to carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere due to human activity.
Those living in the Midwest or East Coast of the United States will remember last year’s Polar Vortex, which brought extreme winter weather to hundreds of millions of people. However, other parts of the country experienced record-setting temperatures during the summer, offsetting the cold experienced during the winter.
Overall, the planet has been growing increasingly warmer for several decades. Variations in weather patterns have created slight cooling periods, but looking at the larger picture shows that temperatures are definitely looking up, and not in a good way. In fact, nine out of the 10 warmest years since the record began have happened after 2000. The exception is 1998, due to the intense effects of El Niño. 2014 was not affected by El Niño.
Image credit: NASA, Hansen et al. (2010)
“This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” noted Gavin Schmidt, GISS Director.
Though NASA and NOAA have agreed that 2014 was the warmest year since the Industrial Revolution, they used different methods for data collection. Researchers at GISS combined data from 6,300 weather stations to get land temperatures, while ocean temps were retrieved via ships, buoys, and from the Antarctic. NOAA’s conclusion also came from data collected by ships and buoys, though it made use of satellite and radar data as well.