US data shows record global temperatures in 2016

Sixteen of 17 hottest years have occurred this century, as climate change advances

Drone footage captures an enormous fissure in Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf, a crack which has forced UK scientists to leave their nearby polar research base. Video: British Antarctic Survey

Climate change continues to advance, with new data from two US government research bodies declaring 2016 to have been the hottest year on record.

This means 16 of the 17 hottest years have all occurred during this century, with 1998 the only outlier. This is also the third year in a row that records have been set.

The two comprehensive datasets released on Wednesday came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). These two bodies independently collect data from around the globe, assembling the temperature and other climate statistics from thousands of locations.

The data shows there has been no let-up in the relentless rise in average land and sea temperatures.


Global annual temperatures crept upwards by an average rate of 0.07 degrees per decade since 1880 and by 0.17 degrees since 1970, according to Noaa’s 137 years of climate data.

Global average temperatures during 2016 were 0.99 degrees warmer than the mid-20th century average.

The average surface temperature has risen by 1.1 degrees since the late 19th century, an increase virtually all scientists agree is as a result of human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels.

US president-elect Donald Trump doubts human activity is causing climate change, as does the man he has appointed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt.

Record warmth

Global ocean temperatures were 0.75 degrees above the 20th century average, Noaa said. There was record warmth in parts of every major ocean basin, with particularly high warming in the north Pacific near Alaska, parts of the southern and western Pacific and the central Atlantic.

Conditions were no better over land, with temperatures on average 1.43 degrees above the 20th century average.

The lack of an El Nino during 2017 will likely mean no top five record will be set during the year, the two bodies suggest.

Among last year’s extreme weather events, wildfires in Alberta were the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history while Phalodi in west India recorded a temperature of 51 degrees on May 19th, a national record.

The Arctic is a particular problem, touching four degrees above average for this region. “We are seeing very large changes in the Arctic,” said Nasa’s Gavin Schmidt, director of its Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Ice loss continues apace off parts of the Antarctic, he said.

There was no surprise that 2016 would rank amongst the warmest years on record, said Prof Colin O'Dowd, director of the Centre for Climate and Air Pollution Studies at the Ryan Institute in NUI Galway.

“Over last six months, we observed a record CO2 level of more than 411 parts per million, which is also a world record for background levels at these latitudes,” he said.

“This has to be taken seriously; it is gone beyond a joke,” he added.

The results illustrate “the importance of continuing negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, said Dr Conor Sweeney of the UCD Meteorology and Climate Centre.

While temperatures did not break records everywhere, “the climate is a global system and this news will affect us all”.