2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest year in modern record

Two independent analysis conducted by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have found that 2014 has been the warmest year since 1880.

Colour-coded map displaying global temperature data for 2014 (credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center)

Colour-coded map displaying global temperature data for 2014 (credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

The – perhaps not too surprising – news was released last Friday. The two independent analyses conducted by NASA and NOAA not only concluded that 2014 was the warmest year on record, but also that we have had 10 of the warmest years since the year 2000 – with the exception of the extremely ‘torrid’ 1998. This trend is alarming as it confirms that our planet is facing a consistent long-term warming.

The analysis conducted by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) included measurements of surface temperature from 6,300 weather stations, ships and buoys combined with temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations. The raw data was analysed using an algorithm that takes into account the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects. The result is an estimate of the global average temperature difference from a baseline period of 1951 to 1980. Scientists at NOAA used much of the same raw temperature data, but a different baseline period. They also employed their own methods to estimate global temperatures.

Since 1880, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by roughly 0.8 degrees Celsius. The majority of the warming has occurred over the past three decades and has been driven by the increase in carbon dioxide and other human emissions into the planet’s atmosphere. “This is the latest in a series of warm years, in a series of warm decades. While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases” – said Director of the NASA’s GISS, Gavin Schmidt.

On a regional level, temperature trends might differ from the global average as they are strongly affected by local weather dynamics. Also, while phenomena like El Nino or La Nina can cause year-to-year fluctuations and have been most likely responsible for a flattening of the long-term warming trend over the past 15 years, 2014’s record warmth is worrisome as it occurred during an El Nino neutral year.

The results of these independent studies bring up two important conclusions. Firstly, that it is imperative to observe and analyse climate data on a long-term scale if we aspire to identify and predict the future climate patterns of Earth’s natural systems. Secondly, they flag one more time an explicit warning: we need to start tackling climate change right now and reduce human’s emission if we hope to slow and, one day ideally stop, the warming of the planet.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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