The new normal: Last year was among the hottest on record, researchers say

The Namibian desert in southern Africa. (© Mariusz Kluzniak/ Flickr Creative Commons)

Researchers this week announced that last year was among the hottest years ever recorded — news that is as unfortunate as it is becoming routine.

Multiple organizations concurred, noting that that 2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño event, which can cause ocean and air temperatures to increase.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the UK Met Office and other groups agreed that 2017 ranked among the hottest years ever recorded, even despite using different methods of calculating temperatures, according to reports from Andrew Freedman at Mashable and Kendra Pierre-Louis at The New York Times.

All of these organizations ranked 2017 in at least the top three warmest years on record. Since records of annual temperatures began in 1880, the six warmest years have all occurred since 2010, an alarming trend.

“This reconfirms what we know about climate change — that global mean temperatures are rising and that the impacts of climate change are accelerating,” said Shyla Raghav, climate change lead at Conservation International. “And with lags in the system, we can expect to see the planet get even hotter in the coming years.”

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According to NOAA, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces in 2017 was 0.84 degrees Celsius, or 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit. In the past, short-term climate events such as El Niño and La Niña serve to bump global temperatures up or down, respectively, during individual years. Yet research by NOAA shows that in recent years, despite La Niña events that have traditionally brought temperatures down, global average temperatures continue to rise.

“This new discovery confirms that change is our new normal, and will alter life as we know it today,” said Raghav, “but we also know that it’s not too late to avoid the most harmful impacts of this warming if we act now.”

One way countries are addressing this is the Paris Agreement. The largest global agreement on climate change to date, it aims to keep the global temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. If global temperatures increase beyond that number, many sensitive natural systems such as coral reefs are likely to disappear, and extreme heat waves and massive storms will become more commonplace.

“The science is clear that our climate is changing at an alarming pace,” said Maggie Comstock, senior director for climate policy at Conservation International. “It is essential that countries ramp up and accelerate actions to implement their national contributions to the Paris Agreement without delay.”

Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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