Science & Health

2015 Shattered All Temperature Records, And It Wasn't Just El Niño

2015 Shattered All Temperature Records, and It Wasn't Just El Niño

In a joint statement this morning, NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2015 was the hottest year on record by a huge margin. We basically knew this — scientists have been calling it since at least July — but now that the official numbers are in, we can see just how wacky a year it was.

“2015 was by far the hottest year on the records we’ve put together,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in a press conference this morning. “Even without El Niño, this would have been the warmest year on record. We’re looking at at long-term trend, and this is just a symptom.”

For the first time this year, the global average temperature was unequivocally 1C warmer than the 19th century average, placing the planet halfway to the 2C global warming target climate scientists say we need to stay below to avoid catastrophic climate change. To stay below that 2C target, Schmidt says, the world would need to cut fossil fuel consumption “pretty much starting now, at historically unprecedented rates”.

As we’ve been reporting throughout the year, ten out of twelve months in 2015 — every month except January and April — broke its respective monthly temperature record. According to Schmidt, many monthly records were surpassed by a much larger margin than they’d been broken in previous years.

2015 Shattered All Temperature Records, and It Wasn't Just El Niño

NASA, NOAA, and UK Met Office global temperature anomalies, dating back to 1880. Via NASA

And thanks to El Niño, 2015 went out guns blazing: December 2015 was the most anomalously hot month of any in history, at 1.11C warmer than its monthly average. As NASA and NOAA stressed today, whether or not 2015 had been an El Niño year, it would have been a roaster.

2015 swiped the warmest-year-in-history title from 2014, but it might not keep the record for long. We’re starting 2016 out with the most extreme El Niño conditions in history, and we can expect more monthly records to be obliterated as the winter continues. “The factors causing this trend are continuing to accelerate,” Schmidt said, adding that there’s “no evidence that the long-term trend has paused, slowed, or hiatused anytime in the last few decades”.

“We anticipate that 2016 is to be an exceptionally warm year, and perhaps even another record,” he said.

Hold onto your butts: the future’s just starting to heat up.

Top image via Scientific Visualisation Studio/Goddard Space Flight Center

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