The planet sizzled to its third straight record warm year in 2016, and human activity is to blame, federal scientists announced Wednesday.
The average temperature across the Earth's land and ocean surfaces was 1.69 degrees above average in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was largest margin by which an annual global temperature record has ever been broken, NOAA said.
The global average temperature in 2016 was 58.69 degrees. Although less than 2 degrees above average may sound small, it's quite a large number in climate science, where records are often broken by tenths or even hundredths of degrees.
A separate analysis of data from NASA concurred with NOAA's findings. Most of the warming has happened in the past 35 years, and 16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred since 2001, NASA said.
Record high temperatures were set in 2016 on nearly every continent. No land areas were cooler than average for the year.
The record warmth was "80-90% because of the long-term trend and 10% because of El Niño," NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt told Carbon Brief.
The long-term warming trend over the past few decades can be linked to the burning of fossil fuels that release gases such as carbon dioxide, he said. The burning of oil, gas and coal for energy releases "greenhouse" gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane. These gases have caused the Earth's temperature to rise over the past century to levels that cannot be explained by natural variability.
2016 was a record in all surface data sets pic.twitter.com/25aQKrOQqb— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) January 18, 2017
“No world leader can afford to ignore these results, which show that people all over the globe are being exposed to increasing impacts of climate change," said Bob Ward of the London School of Economics and Political Science. "Any politician who denies this evidence from world-class climate scientists in the United States will be willfully turning a blind eye to rising risks that threaten the lives and livelihoods of their citizens."
Since the start of the 21st century, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times — 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016 — NOAA said.
“The science is clear and headed in one direction," said Lou Leonard with the World Wildlife Fund. "Human-caused changes in climate are putting the lives of both people and wildlife at risk. From disappearing Arctic ice in Alaska to greater storm surges along our nation’s coastlines to heatwaves in America’s heartland, nature is sending a distress call."
Last year was the USA's second-warmest on record, NOAA said last week.