Scientists began compiling the records in 1880, and 2016 tops the list as Earth's hottest year ever

By Joelle Goldstein
January 15, 2020 04:51 PM
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The Earth is heating up, and according to new data, temperatures are only going to get hotter.

In new separate but similar reports by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA, scientists have determined that 2019 was the second-hottest year on record.

The records, which scientists began compiling in 1880, show that the last five years have been the planet’s warmest, with 2016 currently topping the list by just 0.07 of a degree Fahrenheit.

The years 2017, 2015, and 2018 followed closely behind in third, fourth, and fifth place, respectively, NOAA reported.

Researchers were able to conclude that the average temperature across Earth in 2019 was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, making it the 43rd consecutive year where the land and water temperatures were above average, according to NOAA.

This past December was also the second-hottest month on record, only falling behind December 2015, NOAA stated.

“The decade that just ended is clearly the warmest decade on record,” NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Director Gavin Schmidt said in the space agency’s report. “Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before.”

While analyzing climate models and global temperature data from more than 20,000 resources — including weather stations and ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperature — NASA scientists were able to determine that the heat trends seem to be linked to the increased levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases that humans are constantly emitting into the atmosphere.

The longterm warming also seems to have a direct effect on the increase of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, wildfires, and intense precipitation, NASA reported.

“We crossed over into more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warming territory in 2015 and we are unlikely to go back,” Schmidt said in the NASA report. “This shows that what’s happening is persistent, not a fluke due to some weather phenomenon: we know that the long-term trends are being driven by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

In addition to rising temperatures, NOAA’s report found that polar sea ice coverage was decreasing. NASA supported this finding, noting that since 1970, the Arctic region’s temperature has increased over three times faster than the rest of the world.

“Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced similar amounts of warming,” NASA noted. “NOAA found the 2019 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the 34th warmest on record, giving it a ‘warmer than average’ classification.”

Meanwhile, parts of other continents — including central Europe, Asia, Australia, southern Africa (including the island of Madagascar), New Zealand, Alaska, Mexico, and eastern South America — all experienced the highest land temperature ever recorded in 2019, NOAA reported.

Climate change has been a major topic of conversation, especially amid the devastating wildfires in Australia, which have claimed the lives of dozens of people, displaced thousands from their homes, and killed what wildlife experts say are more than a billion creatures.

Several public figures, including former President Barack Obama and Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, have weighed in on the crisis, urging leaders to seriously address climate change and people to do what they can to help.

“I think most people are still very unaware of how big this crisis is,” Thunberg recently told PEOPLE. “Right now, I have a lot of people listening to what I am saying, so I am using that platform to try to achieve a change.”

Obama echoed her words, writing in a Jan. 9 tweet: “The catastrophic fires in Australia are the latest example of the very real and very urgent consequences of climate change. It’s on us to stay focused and protect the one planet we’ve got for the next generation.”

“Even with problems of this magnitude, each of us can still find a way to make change,” he added.

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Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council told PEOPLE last week that climate change “sets the stage for making [the fires] more devastating.”

“Because of hotter, drier weather, we are seeing the fire season starting sooner, lasting longer and becoming more devastating. Much of Australia has experienced record heat. Dec. 17 was the hottest day on record nationally in Australia,” Deans said, adding that the fires were “a widening crisis” that “points to the global crisis we’re facing.”