Hot streak: NASA warns global warming shows no signs of slowing

Hot streak: NASA warns global warming shows no signs of slowing

- in Science
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By David Freeman

New government data on temperatures around the world offers cold comfort to those who hope that global warming is on the wane. The data, released on Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year since 1880, the earliest year for which reliable global temperature data is available.

The three hottest years on record were 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“In fact, the warmest five years in the record are just the last five years,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, and one of the experts who described the new data in a Wednesday morning press briefing, told NBC News MACH in an email before the event. “The long-term trends toward warmer temperatures are clear and continuing.”

The average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the 1880s, NASA data showed. NOAA, which uses different baselines and analyzes the data differently, found that global temperatures in 2018 were 1.42 degrees F (0.79 degrees C) above the 20th century average.

This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018.NASA’s Earth Observatory

The new report makes it clear that “global warming shows no sign of slowing down or stopping,” Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an email.

Because weather patterns vary around the world, not every region experienced the same warming trend. Trends were strongest in the polar regions, which have seen continued loss of sea ice in the Arctic and shrinkage of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

In the contiguous U.S., 2018 was the 14th hottest year on record. Fourteen states had annual temperatures that were among the 10 highest on record. Arizona’s temperatures in 2018 were the second highest on record, New Mexico’s the third and California’s fourth.

Rainfall also trended upward in 2018. NOAA data showed that the average precipitation in the contiguous U.S. was 34.63 inches, making it the wettest year in the past 35 years and the third-wettest since record-keeping began in 1895. While some parts of the country saw drier-than-normal years, nine eastern states — Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — experienced their wettest years on record.

The temperature data was gathered by thousands of weather stations around the world and then analyzed to correct for any skewing of data that might be caused by the proximity of heat-producing urban areas or other conditions.

There’s broad agreement among scientists that global warming is caused principally by human activity. In particular, the burning of fossil fuels boosts atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases, which raise temperatures by trapping heat from the sun that otherwise would flow into space. Coal-burning power plants are the biggest polluters in the U.S., followed by exhaust-spewing cars, trucks and other gasoline-powered vehicles.

“It will continue to warm, not necessarily year by year, but in the long term, until we get emissions under control,” Schmidt said.

President Donald Trump’s well-known skepticism of climate science notwithstanding, the U.S. populace is starting to catch up with scientists. A new poll shows that 74 percent of Americans now believe global warming is real, with 62 percent saying human activity is the cause.

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