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21 March 2017

Record Breaking Climate Trends of 2016 Expected to Continue

2016 was a record breaking year, and that’s not a good thing. Various major scientific bodies, including the UK’s Met Office, NASA, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), have indicated that 2016 was the warmest year on record, and now a more detailed report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has provided further detail on the “extreme and usual” conditions, which are expected to carry on into 2017.

The report reveals that not only was 2016 the warmest on record, but it also experienced a new high for atmospheric CO2 and a new winter low for Arctic sea ice.

Making use of data from 80 national weather services, the WMO’s State of the Global Climate report shows that, compared with the reference period of 1961-1990, 2016 was 0.83°C warmer than average. When climate change is discussed, the standard reference used is the pre-industrial period, which averaged at 1.1°C cooler than 2016.

“This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas.

“Globally averaged sea-surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea-levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”

The Impact of El Niño

The rise in global temperatures, it is worth noting, cannot be blamed entirely on climate change. The report does concede that temperatures in 2016 were “substantially influenced” by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which added 0.1-0.2°C to long-term warming trends driven by CO2 emissions. El Niño also had a notable impact on the atmosphere and the gases it contains.

“The CO2 rise in 2016 was the fastest on record - 3.4ppm (parts per million) per year - because the El Niño weakened the tropical carbon sink and gave the ongoing CO2 rise an extra kick on top of the effect of human emissions,” said Prof Richard Betts, of the Met Office Hadley Centre.

“As a result, 2016 became the first year in which CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa remained above 400ppm all year round.”

Looking Ahead

Unsurprisingly, these unusual weather conditions are carrying on through to 2017. The Arctic, for example, has already experienced the equivalent of a heatwave three times this year, driven by powerful Atlantic storms.

As the Arctic climate shifts and sea ice retreats, we are also seeing a clear knock-on effect on atmospheric circulation patterns. This can lead to unusual levels of heat in some areas, as has been seen in the US, which has broken over 11,000 temperature records in early 2017.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, World Climate Research Programme Director at the WMO.

Dr Phil Williamson of the University of East Anglia had some strong words to share on the matter:

“The WMO's statement on the 2016 climate leaves no room for doubt. The much-hyped warming hiatus is over - and the 'missing' heat energy didn't go missing at all. Instead, that heat went into the ocean, and we got much of it back again last year,

“Human-driven climate change is now an empirically verifiable fact, combining year-to-year variability with the consequences of our release of extra greenhouse gases. Those who dispute that link are not sceptics, but anti-science deniers.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.