|Analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show the last decade recorded the warmest global surface temperatures in history, with 2019 being the second warmest year / Photo by: moyerphotos via Flickr|
Every decade that passed since the 1960s has been warmer than the last, and the 2010s is no different. Analyses from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show the last decade recorded the warmest global surface temperatures in history, with 2019 being the second warmest year.
NASA and NOAA scientists said the high temperatures are the outcomes of greenhouse gases from human activities and that this upward trend indicates the Earth's changing climate in the future.
"We crossed over into more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit warming territory in 2015, and we are unlikely to go back," said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).
"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."
The Warming Trend
The past 40 years have seen the rise of global warming, faster than that of the 20th century, as the annual global average surface temperature increases at an average rate of 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
Global temperatures were higher in 2019 (about 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit) than the historical average, making it the second warmest year in history behind 2016, which recorded 1.69 degrees Fahrenheit across land and ocean surface areas.
According to NBC News, 2016's record warmth was partly due to the year's strong El Niño event—a natural climate phenomenon that affects global temperatures, rainfall, hurricanes, and severe storms. However, Schmidt noted that Earth's warming trend will likely persist even if scientists ignore El Niño and La Niña effects.
"It would have changed the order of the years slightly — 2017 would have been the warmest year in the absence of an El Niño effect, and 2019 would have been the third-warmest year," the NASA director explained.
"Whether you think the El Niño and La Niña effect is important or not, the basic results are consistent regardless of that."
The report also shows ocean temperatures were the hottest in 2019, about 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit after absorbing 228 sextillion joules of heat. This high temperature contributed to ocean acidification, the rise of sea level, and extreme weather.
NBC News says these findings were consistent with a study that found record-high temperatures in the past year and proved that the Earth's oceans are heating up at a faster pace.
Record-High Temperatures Across Regions
A warmer-than-average temperature characterized 2019, both on land and ocean areas across the globe. North America recorded the 14th warmest year in its 110-year continental record as temperatures went 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1910-2000 average.
Over in South America, the continent saw its second warmest year as temperatures rise to 2.23 degrees Fahrenheit higher as it continues to increase at an average rate of 0.43 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.
The past year was also very warm for Europe, ranking 2019 as the second hottest on record while Africa had its third-warmest year with a yearly continental average temperature of 2.39 degrees Fahrenheit.
Asia also had its third-warmest on the record in 2019 with continental temperatures of 3.02 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1910-2000 average. The past year was the hottest for Oceania as temperatures rose 2.52 degrees Fahrenheit above average.
More Warming Lies Ahead
Other record highs set in 2019 were global greenhouse gas emissions, leading to the highest level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in human history.
The continuing rise in the Earth's surface temperatures comes amid the vow of world leaders to limit the planet's warming to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. This commitment aims to curb disaster brought about by climate change such as a catastrophic sea-level rise and deadlier extreme weather events.
However, meeting that ambitious target requires an immediate transformational shift from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives—a change that has yet to materialize, The Washington Post reports. It adds that more warming is coming, with 2020 expected to be one of the five hottest years.
Scientists say the effects of global warming and climate change manifest in different ways, depending on what region is affected. Extreme warming is fueling the wildfires of Australia and California and melts the permafrost in Alaska and Siberia—fueling more intense storms and floods.
Rising global temperatures are also changing the marine ecosystems of Canada, South America, and the South African coast, putting wildlife and livelihoods that depend on the sea at risk.
"The evidence isn’t just in surface temperature," Benjamin Santer, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told the Washington Post about the human-driven warming trend. "It’s Arctic sea ice. It’s atmospheric water vapor increases. It’s changes in glaciers in Alaska. It’s changes in the Greenland Ice Sheet. It’s all of the above."
The future is up to us
If these warming trends continue, global temperatures will reach up to 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit higher by the end of the century. Preventing this means carbon emissions must drop by 7.6% annually starting this year to achieve the global target of capping the planet's temperatures to no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Many countries have yet to fulfill their promise of cutting down on carbon emissions, including some of the biggest contributors in the world. In 2015, over 100 countries made their commitment to submit more ambitious plans to fight climate change by the end of 2020.
Collectively, however, all those nations present merely 15% of global carbon emissions—and it will be further reduced as the US plans to ext from the treaty this year.
The stacks seem against humans to bring down global temperatures and curb their catastrophic outcomes. But climate researcher Zeke Hausfather said the world still has a chance to change that disastrous path.
"We don’t have any sign yet of global warming slowing down, but we also don’t have any sign of global emissions slowing down," Hausfather told the Washington Post.
He noted that the future heavily relies on how society will handle greenhouse gas emissions.
"If we continue emitting at current levels, we will continue warming at about the same rate. What happens in the future is really up to us."