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Earth Sets a Temperature Record for the Third Straight Year

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.

The findings come two days before the inauguration of an American president who has called global warming a Chinese plot and vowed to roll back his predecessor’s efforts to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.

In reality, the Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.

In 2015 and 2016, the planetary warming was intensified by the weather pattern known as El Niño, in which the Pacific Ocean released a huge burst of energy and water vapor into the atmosphere. But the bigger factor in setting the records was the long-term trend of rising temperatures, which scientists say is being driven by increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” said Deke Arndt, chief of global climate monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

The heat extremes were especially pervasive in the Arctic, with temperatures in the fall running 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal across large stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice in that region has been in precipitous decline for years, and Arctic communities are already wrestling with enormous problems, such as rapid coastal erosion, caused by the changing climate.

“What’s going on in the Arctic is really very impressive; this year was ridiculously off the chart,” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, a unit of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that tracks global temperatures.

But Arctic people were hardly alone in feeling the heat. Drought and starvation afflicted Africa. On May 19, the people in the town of Phalodi lived through the hottest day in the recorded history of India, 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

El Niño has now ended, and climate scientists almost universally expect 2017 to be cooler than the year before. But the scale of the heat burst has been startling to many of the experts, and some of them fear an accelerated era of global warming could be at hand over the next few years.

Even at current temperatures, billions of tons of land ice are melting or sliding into the ocean. The sea is also absorbing most of the heat trapped by human emissions. Those factors are causing the ocean to rise at what appears to be an accelerating pace, and coastal communities in the United States are beginning to spend billions to fight increased tidal flooding. Their pleas for help from Congress have largely been ignored.

The finding that a record had been set for the third year in a row was released on Wednesday by three government agencies, two of them American and one British, that track measurements made by ships, buoys and land-based weather stations. They analyze the figures to correct for known problems, producing an annual average temperature for the surface of the Earth. The national meteorological agency of Japan confirmed the findings in a preliminary analysis.

In the British data set, 2016 set a record by only a small amount; the margin was larger in the NOAA data set and larger still in NASA’s. NASA does more work than the other groups to take full account of Arctic temperatures, and several scientists said they believed the NASA record to be the most accurate for 2016 for that reason.

NASA’s calculations suggested that the planet had warmed by well over a half-degree Fahrenheit from 2013 to 2016. That is a huge change for the surface of an entire planet to undergo in just three years, and it appears to be the largest temperature increase over a three-year period in the NASA record, which begins in 1880.

The findings about a record-warm year were also confirmed by the Berkeley Earth surface temperature project, a nonprofit California group set up to provide a temperature analysis independent of governments. That group, however, did not find that three records had been set in a row; in its analysis, 2010 was slightly warmer than 2014.

In addition to the surface measurements, satellites are used to measure the temperature of the atmosphere within a few miles of the surface. Two groups that analyze these figures showed a record-warm 2016 in data going back to 1978, though in one data set it was a record by only a small margin.

Since 1880, NOAA’s records show only one other instance when global temperature records were set three years in a row: in 1939, 1940 and 1941. The Earth has warmed so much in recent decades, however, that 1941 now ranks as only the 37th-warmest year on record.

The modern era of global warming began around 1970, after a long stretch of relatively flat temperatures, and the past three years mark the first time in that period that three records were set in a row. Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have now occurred since 2000.

Two of the agencies that issued Wednesday’s figures, NOAA and NASA, will soon report to cabinet secretaries appointed by President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has expressed doubt about the findings of climate science. In 2012, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.”

Fear has erupted within the agencies about whether their data will now be subject to political manipulation. Mr. Trump and his cabinet nominees have given no detailed indication of what their broad climate policies are likely to be, much less how they will manage the scientific enterprise of monitoring the climate.

Since he was elected president, Mr. Trump has acknowledged there may be “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, and he promised to keep an open mind on the subject.

On Wednesday, in questioning before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said, “I do not believe that climate change is a hoax.” He did not, however, say whether he believed that Mr. Trump was wrong on climate change.

The three record-setting years in a row undercut longstanding claims by a handful of contrarian scientists that global warming stopped after 1998. That argument was never backed by good statistical evidence, but it was highlighted repeatedly in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail in 2016.

When the heat buildup in the ocean is taken into account, global temperatures are rising relentlessly. Scientists have calculated that the heat accumulating throughout the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the energy that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

It is true that at the Earth’s surface, the warming seems to be proceeding in fits and starts. “The arc of global warming will be variously steep and less steep,” said Richard Seager, a climate scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. “It never stopped.”

In fact, the rate over time has been reasonably close to predictions that scientists first offered decades ago. Those same scientists have long warned that humanity is courting disaster by failing to bring fossil-fuel emissions under control.

For example, many experts on sea level believe that a rise of 15 or 20 feet has already become inevitable, though they cannot say how fast it will happen. A rise that large would drown most of the world’s coastal cities without heroic efforts to fortify them.



How 2016 Became Earth’s Hottest Year on Record

Global temperatures have continued to rise, making 2016 the hottest year on the historical record and the third consecutive record-breaking year, scientists say. Of the 17 hottest years ever recorded, 16 have now occurred since 2000.

In the historical record, months early in the year, like February and March, have moved further away from the norm than the rest of the year. Scientists expect that the early months of 2017 will continue to show levels of warming beyond the norm, but likely not at the level of 2016 because a strong El Niño weather pattern is now subsiding.

The Earth’s temperature has risen since record-keeping began in the 19th century. Warming began to accelerate around the 1980s.

Human-induced climate change has made it at least 160 times more likely that three consecutive years after 2000 would be record-setting, according to Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

His findings show that if human-induced climate change was not part of the equation, the amount of warming in 2016 would have less than one-in-a-million odds of occurring.

“One could argue that about 75 percent of the warmth was due to human impact,” Dr. Mann said.

2016 was the first time that the hottest year on record occurred three times in a row.

The later months of 2015 and the first half of 2016 experienced faster warming partly due to the El Niño climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which sent a surge of heat into the atmosphere.

The El Niño pattern occurs irregularly, in intervals of about two to seven years, and scientists say that the most recent El Niño was among the largest in a century. The peak of the most recent El Niño occurred during winter of 2015, and temperatures were dramatically higher than normal. It began to subside over the course of 2016.

Scientists are working to understand whether climate change is also making El Niño phenomena stronger.

Scientists predict that warming will continue to exceed records.

Historical records of global temperature are compiled by two American government agencies: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Meteorological agencies in Britain and Japan also compile reliable datasets of global temperature.

The analyses by the agencies are based on thousands of measurements from weather stations, ships and ocean buoys around the world. Each group tracking global temperature uses different methods to take account of problems in the data, but usually reach similar conclusions about the significant long-term trend of global warming.

For 2016, the records from NASA were likely the most accurate, because of data collection in Antarctica and a more sophisticated statistical analysis in the Arctic. The combination allows NASA to have more reliable coverage in the polar regions of the world, which have been highly affected by rising temperatures. Global sea ice extent reached near record low levels late in 2016.

“We expect records to continue to be broken as global warming proceeds,” Dr. Mann said.





Global Warming Caused By ‘Natural Variations’ In Climate

Global temperature change observed over the last hundred years or so is well within the natural variability of the last 8,000 years, according to a new paper by Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) lead author Dr. Philip Lloyd.

 Dr. Philip Lloyd is a South Africa-based physicist and climate researcher, Dr. Lloyd examined ice core-based temperature data going back 8,000 years to gain perspective on the magnitude of global temperature changes over the 20th Century.

What Lloyd found was that the standard deviation of the temperature over the last 8,000 years was about 0.98 degrees Celsius– higher than the 0.85 degrees climate scientists say the world has warmed over the last century.

 “This suggests that while some portion of the temperature change observed in the 20th century was probably caused by greenhouse gases, there is a strong likelihood that the major portion was due to natural variations,” Lloyd wrote in his study.

The United Nations’ IPCC claims there’s been 0.85 degrees Celsius of warming since the late 1800s, and concludes that most of this warming is due to human activities– mainly, the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use. The IPCC says that “more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010” have been caused by human activity.

 If Lloyd’s results hold, the IPCC may have to revise how much warming it attributes to mankind. In any case, the IPCC’s estimate of man-made and natural warming (0.85 degrees) is still below the standard deviation for the last 8,000, according to Lloyd’s results. This means that warming is not very significant within the context of the Earth’s recent climate history.

Lloyd arrived at his conclusion after the “differences in temperatures between all records which are approximately a century apart were determined, after any trends in the data had been removed.” Lloyd noted the “differences were close to normally distributed.”

But Lloyd’s study hits at a larger debate within climate science: how much warming is attributable to mankind or nature. Clearly, Lloyd and the IPCC he once contributed to now represent different ends of the spectrum.

 “The key challenge in understanding climate change is to assess the natural climate variability,” Dr. Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in April.

At the time, Ronald Bailey, a science write for Reason magazine, wrote that there has still not been enough observed warming to meet the IPCC’s standard of “enhanced warming” — that is, warming above natural levels.

 In his article, Bailey noted that there has not been enough temperature rise since the IPCC set its benchmark for “enhanced warming” in 1990. Curry noted that there was a big jump in temperature between 1993 and 1998, but that was basically because of the latter year’s El Niño.

 “The magnitude of natural climate variability over the past 1000 years and even the past 100 years is hotly debated,” Curry added. “Personally, I think the role of natural climate variability has been substantially underestimated in our interpretation of recent climate change.”

But not all scientists agree with Bailey’s article, and some argue that signs of human influence on the Earth’s climate were evident in the 1970s. Indeed, by 1995 the IPCC stated that the “balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.” The international body has only made stronger statement on man’s climatic influence ever since.

“I would not pin anything on what was said by IPCC in 1990,” Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told TheDCNF in April. “In the reports since then there have been thorough evaluations of past IPCC projections and whether they were out of line.”

Human influence on the climate may have been observable in the 1970s, but scientists have had trouble explaining why satellite data shows that average global temperatures have been virtually flat for more than 18 years. Satellites measure the troposphere — the lowest few miles of the atmosphere — in contrast, to surface temperature measurements, which most climate bodies rely on for estimates of global average temperature average.

But even surface temperature data showed a hiatus in warming for about 15 years or so. Scientists have offered up dozens of explanations for why global temperatures have been flat since the late 1990s. The most prominent explanation is that oceans have been absorbing most of the “heat” from increased greenhouse gas emissions, meaning surface temperatures show less warming than they otherwise would.

 “What is evident now is that the signal of global warming emerged from the noise of natural variability about the mid 1970s,” Trenberth added. “There are fluctuations in global mean temperatures: from year to year with El Niños, etc., and from decade to decade, so that trends reflecting global warming need to be taken over at least 20 years.”




Climate Change

Climate change is a significant time variation in weather patterns occurring over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. Climate change may refer to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term average conditions (i.e., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change is caused by factors such as biotic processes, variations in solar radiation received by Earth, plate tectonics, and volcanic eruptions. Certain human activities have also been identified as significant causes of recent climate change, often referred to as global warming.

Scientists actively work to understand past and future climate by using observations and theoretical models. A climate record — extending deep into the Earth's past — has been assembled, and continues to be built up, based on geological evidence from borehole temperature profiles, cores removed from deep accumulations of ice, floral and faunal records, glacial and periglacial processes, stable-isotope and other analyses of sediment layers, and records of past sea levels. More recent data are provided by the instrumental record. General circulation models, based on the physical sciences, are often used in theoretical approaches to match past climate data, make future projections, and link causes and effects in climate change.




Global Warming

Global warming is the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of Earth's climate system. Since 1971, 90% of the increased energy has been stored in the oceans, mostly in the 0 to 700m region. Despite the oceans' dominant role in energy storage, the term "global warming" is also used to refer to increases in average temperature of the air and sea at Earth's surface. Since the early 20th century, the global air and sea surface temperature has increased about 0.8 °C (1.4 °F), with about two-thirds of the increase occurring since 1980. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850

Scientific understanding of the cause of global warming has been increasing. In its fourth assessment (AR4 2007) of the relevant scientific literature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that scientists were more than 90% certain that most of global warming was being caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities. In 2010 that finding was recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations

Affirming these findings in 2013, the IPCC stated that the largest driver of global warming is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cement production, and land use changes such as deforestation. Its 2013 report states:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely (95-100%) that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. - IPCC AR5 WG1 Summary for Policymakers

Climate model projections were summarized in the 2013 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They indicated that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 0.3 to 1.7 °C (0.5 to 3.1 °F) for their lowest emissions scenario using stringent mitigation and 2.6 to 4.8 °C (4.7 to 8.6 °F) for their highest. The ranges of these estimates arise from the use of models with differing sensitivity to greenhouse gas concentrations.

Future climate change and associated impacts will vary from region to region around the globe. The effects of an increase in global temperature include a rise in sea levels and a change in the amount and pattern of precipitation, as well as a probable expansion of subtropical deserts. Warming is expected to be strongest in the Arctic, with the continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice. Other likely effects of the warming include more frequent extreme weather events including heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall; ocean acidification; and species extinctions due to shifting temperature regimes. Effects significant to humans include the threat to food security from decreasing crop yields and the loss of habitat from inundation.

Proposed policy responses to global warming include mitigation by emissions reduction, adaptation to its effects, building systems resilient to its effects, and possible future climate engineering. Most countries are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), whose ultimate objective is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic (i.e., human-induced) climate change. Parties to the UNFCCC have adopted a range of policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to assist in adaptation to global warming. Parties to the UNFCCC have agreed that deep cuts in emissions are required, and that future global warming should be limited to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. Reports published in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programmers and the International Energy Agency suggest that efforts as of the early 21st century to reduce emissions may be inadequate to meet the UNFCCC's 2 °C target.

Emissions of greenhouse gases grew 2.2% per year between 2000 and 2010, compared with 1.3% per year from 1970 to 2000.


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