After performing independent analyses, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have both announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record. This is the first time in modern history that measured temperatures have broken the previous records for three years in a row.
This is unsurprising if you’ve followed the month-to-month updates. Eight out of 12 months in the past year have been the hottest since records began in 1880. June, October, November, and December were only second to the same months in 2015.
“2016 is remarkably the third record year in a row in this series,” Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in a statement. “We don’t expect record years every year, but the ongoing long-term warming trend is clear.”
The planet's average surface temperature has risen by about 0.99°C (1.78°F) since the mid-20th century – a change that has been brought on by increased carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The temperatures for 2016 were on average 0.07 °C (0.13°F) higher than for 2015.
Politicians with vested interests and egg-shaped twitterati might argue about solar irradiation, a “hiatus”, and many other fantasies, but just like snowflakes, their arguments melt easily. Most of the warming has occurred in the last 35 years, and 16 out of the 17 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001.
The year 2015 saw a dramatic jump in temperature compared to 2014 due to a particularly strong El Niño, a warming of the tropical pacific, which was active for most of 2015 and continued into the first third of 2016.
While global averages have steadily grown, not every region of the planet has experienced the same increase. Weather, while related to climate, is affected by regional and local conditions. Both NASA and NOAA found that 2016 was the second-warmest year on record for the contiguous 48 United States, while the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever.
NASA and NOAA use temperature measurements from 6,300 weather station, ships, and buoys spread across the surface of the planet. The two agencies use different baselines and different algorithms to create a global average value, but both measurements show that the Earth is undeniably getting warmer.
While the damage to our planet is real, there’s still plenty we can do. More and more governments are investing in renewable resources and even individuals can do their part to at least reduce their impact.