One-In-A-Million Chance 2016 Would Have Broken Temperature Record Without Humans

Last year saw droughts hit many parts of the world as temperatures soared, including Australia

Last year saw droughts hit many parts of the world as temperatures soared, including Australia. John Carnemolla/Shutterstock

With the massive amounts of extra warming heaped on the planet during the historically large El Niño event witnessed last year, the planet experienced three consecutive record-breaking annual temperatures in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Despite this, many still dispute that this ramping up of global temperatures has human finger prints all over it.

In light of that, a team of researchers decided to calculate what the exact chances that three consecutive years would all break the record for the warmest year, if human influences were to be removed, and published their results in Geophysical Research Letters.


Well, it seems that you would have a higher chance of being hit by lightning each year than there was of 2014, 2015 and 2016 smashing the records of the warmest years recorded. The study calculated the odds of the latest record breaking temperatures, finding that the chances that the three previous years would have all broken the record naturally were so negligible, with a 0.03 percent likelihood, that it would have been effectively, but clearly not entirely, impossible.

Temperature anomalies over time. Antti Lipponen/Finnish Meteorological Institute via Flickr

But it doesn’t stop there. They also looked more broadly at the chances that three consecutive years would break the record post the year 2000 without the input of humans, which came out at around 0.7 percent likelihood, and more specifically at the likelihood of seeing the exact level of record warmth recorded during 2016 that occurred, which came in with a one-in-a-million chance.

Yet when the impact of anthropogenic warming is taken into account, these odds flip massively. The researchers found that the chance of three consecutive years breaking the heat record increases to the still rare, but not implausible, likelihood of between 1 and 3 percent.

When it comes to the odds that three consecutive years would be record breakers at some point since 2000, this probability rockets from 0.7 percent up to between an astonishing 30 and 50 percent. And when it comes to seeing the specific warming observed in 2016, the odds of that occurring when human influence is included jumps to a one-in-three chance.


This, as if more evidence was actually needed, simply goes on to support the fact that clearly, very obviously, humans are having an impact on global temperatures. Unfortunately, the science of climate change has shifted to being a political issue to such as extent that for many climate deniers, it is not data that will convince them that we are having an impact, but more visceral, home-hitting effects.

[H/T The Guardian]


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