Image: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio
Since 2014, every year has been hotter than the last—except for 2017, NASA announced Thursday. But don’t breath a sigh of relief yet, 2017 still managed to take the silver medal: it’s the second-hottest year on record, and the hottest year without an El Niño season, which is partly what made 2016 so hot.
Since 1880, when these kinds of measurements became possible, scientists have been tracking the Earth’s global surface temperatures, and these data have provided some of the most undeniable proof of climate change. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both do their own analyses each year and have come to the similar conclusions, with NOAA ranking 2017 as the third-hottest year. Either way, it all means we’re still seeing record-high temperatures year after year.
“Despite colder than average temperatures in any one part of the world, temperatures over the planet as a whole continue the rapid warming trend we’ve seen over the last 40 years,” said Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a press release.
Due to increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, Earth’s average surface temperature has risen more than 1 degree Celsius in the last 100 years. And 2017 marked the third consecutive year where the temperatures were more than 1 degree Celsius above late nineteenth-century levels.
Many climate scientists agree that if we act soon, we can keep these rising temperatures above 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial limits, which will minimize the dire environmental and societal impacts of climate change. That is the ultimate goal of the Paris Agreement—reminder, the United States is the only country to have said it will not participate in the agreement—but with this heat trend continuing, it’s a reminder of how little time we have to act.
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